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Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in Asia. Around 90% of the poor live in the countryside. Agriculture contributes about one third to GDP. Farming is still the main source of income for more than half of the population.
Cambodia is ranked among the top ten countries most vulnerable to climate change. Weather extremes have increasing impacts at community level due to poor water management, obsolete agricultural techniques, lack of infrastructure and limited institutional capacity to respond to hydro-climatic variability. The north-western province of Banteay Meanchey is particularly hard hit by the disruption of typical weather patterns. Here, severe water shortages and flooding have caused a significant deterioration of livelihoods and the destruction of infrastructure. Caritas Switzerland supports the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) and the local authorities of Banteay Meanchey through disaster preparedness and prevention. Rural disaster risk reduction (DRR) is key to saving the ives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable.
In environmentally stressed areas, migration has become an established livelihood strategy. People migrate in the hope of escaping poverty by seeking employment either in urban areas or abroad. Caritas Switzerland works in the bordering provinces of Banteay Meanchey and Battambang, where neighbouring Thailand attracts low-skilled Cambodians on a significant scale. Lack of education and training and pitifully low wages lead to exploitation and trafficking, with women and children particularly at risk. Caritas Switzerland’s anti-trafficking and safe migration programme is providing support for women and children at risk of, or victims of, violence.
Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change (DRR/CC)
Cambodian people have always respected the power of nature: Rural houses are built on stilts in case of a heavy wet season, and subsistence farmers keep a stock of rice for the dry season. Due to climate change, the weather patterns are changing rapidly, with prolonged droughts alternating with deluges of flooding. Traditional techniques are no longer sufficient.
Caritas Switzerland’s programme supports disaster-affected communities in identifying and addressing their vulnerabilities through community action plans. Interventions aim to strengthen knowledge about hazards and develop suitable disaster preparedness measures, climate-smart agricultural techniques and diversification of livelihoods.
Integrated water resource management is the most important strategy applied to ensure year-round access to water for human consumption and for agricultural production. The communities develop systems to control excess rain and floods. This includes rainwater harvesting at household level and small-scale structural meases such as dams, community ponds and canals that serve as irrigation systems. Ecologically and socially sustainable water use schemes are promoted, and a strong focus is on ensuring the management, operation and maintenance of the hardware. Moreover, hygiene and sanitation components are given due attention to achieve behaviour change among the target population.
The programme takes a multi-stakeholder approach that builds political will and effective working partnerships between the many agencies that need to be involved, especially the authorities.
For reasons such as pressure on natural and agricultural resources, lack of employment opportunities in rural areas, or just hopes for a better future, growing numbers of Cambodians seek work in towns or abroad. Harmful migratory practices put women and children in particular at risk of exploitation, violence and trafficking. Caritas Switzerland is concerned about the human rights violations, but at the same time acknowledges migration as a source of human, social and economic development.
The overarching goal of our programme is to contribute to a reduction of exploitive forms of migration. The approach combines prevention, protection and reintegration. Caritas Switzerland promotes safe labour migration through community-based awareness-raising activities aimed at preventing unsafe migration and trafficking, so that families and individuals can make informed decisions. In addition, Caritas Switzerland supports assistance to women and children who have been in exploitative situations. This includes psychosocial support and reintegration options such as vocational training for young women or schooling for children.
Caritas Switzerland is aware of Cambodia’s high susceptibility to natural disasters and the likely deterioration of the situation in the context of climate change, with ever-faster cycles of drought and floods. The organisation’s projects aim to improve the coping mechanisms and livelihood resilience strategies of the smallholders to prevent adverse impacts of such events. In case immediate support is needed, Caritas Switzerland integrates emergency interventions into existing programmes and projects.
At the national level, Caritas Switzerland is represented in the Humanitarian Response Forum.