With a population of 14.3 million people, almost one third of whom live below the poverty line, Cambodia faces many challenges now and in the years ahead with overpopulation. Although generational poverty is a serious problem in Cambodia, the country's steadily increasing population is also placing significant pressure on the government and aid organizations. Rural areas in particular often lack the resources necessary to adequately support low-income families, and many children don't receive the start they need in life.
The reasons behind Cambodia's population growth are complex. Conflicts spilling over from the Vietnam War and internal warfare in the 1970s displaced thousands of families, making migration from rural to urban areas or to other countries commonplace as people tried to escape the fighting. Since 1993, when the nation was rebuilt under a new government, many Cambodians have returned to their homeland from neighboring countries such as Thailand. Although the Cambodian economy has been improving, the population growth has placed additional pressure on a country already ravaged by years of war. In the intervening years, natural population growth accelerated, resulting in even fewer available resources.
Fluctuating fertility rates have also played a considerable part in Cambodia's population growth. In the 1950s and 1960s, fertility rates were much higher than they are today, resulting in many more children being born. In 2010, according to the Cambodian Demographic and Health Survey, the average Cambodian woman has three children, although women in urban areas tend to have fewer children than those in rural regions. In the same year, more than 30 percent of the Cambodian population was under the age of 15.
Although these rates stabilized following the conflicts of the 1970s, the Population Reference Bureau predicts that by 2025, Cambodian families will surpass "replacement levels" of fertility, a statistical measure indicating that two parents have only two children. If these projections are accurate, Cambodia is at a critical junction in terms of having the resources to support its population growth.
Poverty is more pronounced in rural parts of Cambodia. Insufficient access to education, health care and nutritious food remain enduring challenges, and many of the country's poorest families struggle to survive.
Many children simply cannot attend school because they must work to support their families. This results in a perpetuating cycle of poverty that is difficult to break, because without early childhood education, children stand little chance of emerging from poverty later in life.
A second challenge is to expand access to healthy water sources. According to UNICEF, only 64 percent of the Cambodian population had access to clean drinking water in 2010, forcing millions of people to drink unclean water that can carry preventable diseases caused by waterborne bacteria. In addition, approximately 40 percent of Cambodian children suffered from moderate to severe stunting between 2007 and 2011, and almost one third of children were underweight in the same time period.
Fortunately, there is hope for Cambodia. Although poverty is widespread, the severity of the situation can be effectively lessened with continued governmental intervention and the work of organizations like ChildFund. A key part of our work in Cambodia is early childhood development, enabling better access to education systems, including expanding access to immunizations and other basic health care, increasing primary school enrollment and retention, and protecting children's rights.
Since 2007, we have helped thousands of Cambodian children, but to continue our work, we need your help. One of the best ways you can invest in the future of a Cambodian boy or girl is by becoming a child sponsor. For just $28 per month, you can ensure that a child has access to the food, health care and education he or she needs to break the cycle of poverty and lead a fulfilling life.