Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Poor in Cambodia

“My mother asked me, ‘What is the use of your going to school, if we don’t have anything to eat and life is so difficult?’”

“We are poor and we have nothing to depend on except land, so when we face any difficult problem, such as health concerns, we might sell land as the only way to survive,” explained a landless villager in Kompong Cham. “Actually we don’t want to do that, but we have no choice.”

My husband had a serious case of malaria in 1990, and we were short of food, so I had to mortgage our ricefield to get (about $60 worth) of gold. I had no money to get my land back, and 3 years later I lost it to the creditor,” said a landless woman in Siem Reap....

In one case a villager reported that a physical assault by local thugs went unreported because the victim did not have the village clerk’s filing fee of about $1.20. In another case, villagers reported to police that illegal “electrofishing” was going on in the lake and harming their catch. The police confiscated the equipment of the criminals but that did not stop the fishing. “Afterwards (the police) sold the electrofishing gear to get money to line their own pockets,” one of the villagers explained. Such small abuses dot the landscape of poverty and create a sense that the government is remote and inaccessible.

Even those with a measure of authority, such as local commune councils, sometimes report that they feel powerless. “We are the local authority, village and commune, (and we) have prohibited villagers from cutting down the forest,” said a commune council member from Kampong Thom. “But… the people who cut down the trees are powerful and high-ranking. Some villagers sell their labor to those people, while others log the forests for sale (of wood) and for house construction. We do not take action because we have no power to arrest those powerful people.”

-Voices of the Poor

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