Last year, Cambodia came through the COVID-19 pandemic relatively unscathed, outbreak-wise. They recorded less than 400 COVID-19 cases, and zero deaths. However, their economy was shattered.
Economic Impact of COVID-19
Cambodia’s tourism industry, which usually contributes around one-third of GDP (OECD 2019), was been decimated due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
International arrivals contracted by 74% in September 2020 (World Bank) and almost 3,000 tourism-related businesses in Cambodia closed, leaving a further 45,405 people unemployed (Minister of Tourism).
Added to this, 90,000 Cambodian migrant workers fled back to the country from Thailand because of COVID-19, leaving them jobless (UNAids). The collapse of growth drivers has put at least 1.76 million jobs at risk (World Bank). Siem Reap, our target area, is dependent on tourism as it is the location of the Angkor World Heritage Site.
Impact on Human Development and Education
UNDP has found that the COVID-19 impact in Cambodia has been equivalent to losing five years of human development progress. Only 47.9% of students in Cambodia were able to access online learning during the eight months that schools were closed across the country.
Prior to COVID-19, 35% of Cambodians were already living in multidimensional poverty, meaning they are deprived of at least one of the three key dimensions: health, education and living standards (UNDP 2018). Poverty levels could climb by 11 percentage points if income losses last for six months (World Bank). Economists say it’s likely that Cambodia will experience a “U-shaped” recovery, wherein growth rates won’t return to pre-crisis levels for several years (Asia Times), therefore it is expected that many more Cambodians will slip into the poverty bracket. Added to this, an estimated 2.6 million Cambodians have outstanding microfinance loans worth more than $10 billion collectively, and many are unable to repay their loans due to unemployment (Cambodia Microfinance Association). This puts Cambodians that are unable to repay their loans at risk of losing their homes, or falling into debt bondage and human trafficking (UNHCR).
Current Outbreak of COVID-19
Cambodia is currently at a critical point in the fight against COVID-19. On 20 February 2021, 32 locally acquired COVID-19 cases were reported in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, after a breach in quarantine.
As of March 25th, this current outbreak has reached 1,348 confirmed cases and five deaths. All schools and entertainment venues across the country have been closed, which brings a new concern about the impact on already-suffering households.
HHA Cambodia’s Plan
Our program partner, HHA Cambodia, has paused their in-person classes at the directive of the government.
HHA Cambodia’s team very successfully pivoted their programs last year and introduced new ones in response to the pandemic, so they are hopeful that things will be smoother this time around. During this time, their teachers will continue teaching the students in the education program with internet access through online classes. All other programs have been paused as they require face-to-face interaction. Their team are working from home for a fortnight, and plan to head back to their office on 5th of April with preventative measure in place. For those team members whose staff live in lockdown areas, they will continue to work from home and/or take annual leave.