Covid-19 and the impact on social areas in Cambodia
According to the Johns Hopkins University, there are very few people in Cambodia who have tested positive for COVID-19 so far. On November 30th at 9:00 a.m.CET there were a total of 323 cases, of which 22 were active, with no single fatality. Only 16 states worldwide had fewer confirmed cases. At the same time, its immediate neighbors Thailand 3,998, Vietnam 1,343 and Laos 39 cases. Most of the people affected in Cambodia are considered imported cases; The most recent visit in November was the visit of the Hungarian Foreign Minister infected with Covid-19 for a slight increase in confirmed cases. While the numbers come as a surprise given its close ties with China, there is no sign that the government is embellishing them or that reports of the virus are subject to heightened press censorship.
Even if the number of unreported cases is likely to be higher due to limited test capacities: Cambodia seems to be hardly affected by the virus. The reasons for this are unclear – the decisive factors could be the tropical climate, the frequent stay outside of closed spaces and perhaps also favorable genetic dispositions of the Khmer. This means that there is no threat of acute overloading of the health system, the development of which has been largely neglected in recent years and could hardly do anything to counter an epidemic.
At the same time, the limits to limiting social contacts started only slowly. Kindergartens, schools, universities as well as cinemas and karaoke bars were closed in mid-March. After all, the schools and kindergartens were reopened for the first time on September 7th, albeit, as in other countries, under strict organizational hygiene requirements. Bigger events are still banned by the government.
A good 90% of the population are Khmer (the CIA World Factbook even gives almost 98%), 5% Vietnamese, 1% ethnic Chinese and just under 4% belong to other ethnic groups. According to Militarynous.com, this makes Cambodia the most homogeneous country in all of Southeast Asia. Unlike its regional neighbors, Cambodia – despite a latent conflict structure between the Khmer and Vietnamese – has been largely free of ethnic, religious and separatist conflicts for this very reason. However, the ethnic minorities were subjected to considerable repression under the Khmer Rouge.
Apart from the Chinese in Cambodia, the minorities are concentrated in certain local regions: the Cham live mainly on the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, while indigenous hill tribes (Khmer Leou) can be found mainly in the provinces of Ratankkiri and Mondulkiri. The Vietnamese originally lived mainly in the Takeo provinces and at the large lake in Pursat and Battambang. However, due to increased influx in recent years, they have now also settled in other parts of Cambodia. This development is viewed critically by many Khmer and is now also found in politics. While there have been no major anti-Vietnamese riots in the last three and a half decades, prejudices against the Thais living in Phnom Penh erupted in serious clashes in January 2003, during which the Thai embassy was stormed by a Cambodian mob, among others.
In Cambodia, generally characterized by strong hierarchies, a high intensity of violence in family and society can be observed. Given the cultural background, this is initially astonishing, since the Buddhist value system tends to encourage peaceful conflict regulation. The high potential for violence (especially against women and children) is mainly due to the long war years and the traumatic events of the Khmer Rouge regime. In the public perception, violence within the family is still taboo, and both law enforcement agencies and the courts have only marginally dealt with this issue.
The destruction of all established social structures by the Pol Pot regime, the subsequent civil war and the imposing of foreign systems in the years that followed caused a dramatic decline in values. Bribery police officers and a highly corrupt judiciary mean that the Khmer avoid state institutions for conflict resolution. The proliferation of handguns as a legacy of the civil war still harbors a not inconsiderable potential risk. Cambodian newspapers continue to regularly report lynching, mostly for minor crimes such as theft or following serious traffic accidents. Acid attacks, on the other hand, have declined significantly in recent years.
Cambodia’s capitalist economic system knows neither significant instruments of social compensation nor a social obligation of property. While there is rudimentary accident insurance for employees, pension and health insurance have not yet been implemented despite the existing legal basis. The high level of corruption makes it difficult for low-income sections of the population, in particular, to access education, health services and fair justice, which is why Cambodia has regard to human security is rated very critically overall. Social work providers are very rarely and exclusively dependent on private donations, which are mainly acquired in western countries or from foreigners in Cambodia.
In urban areas, especially in the capital Phnom Penh, informal settlements have been systematically dismantling for years, usually without sufficient compensation for those affected. Through the widespread award of agro-industrial land concessions, usually as leases for 99 years, around one million people have lost their land ownership over the past two decades. Model projects in which social land concessions are awarded with international support have consistently been critically discussed by independent observers.
Deprived of the possibility of generating an income from subsistence farming as a farmer, the proportion of migrants to urban areas and Thailand skyrocketed. Lured by false promises, more and more young Cambodians end up in the clutches of human traffickers, who sometimes get into slave-like dependencies abroad. That is precisely why Cambodia ranks 9th out of 167 countries worldwide in the Global Slavery Index 2018.