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AVI COMMENTARY ISSUE: 2020, No. 12 | Cambodia’s Long March Against the Covid-19 Pandemic



Cambodia’s Long March Against the Covid-19 Pandemic

ISSUE 2020
No 12
Release 21st April 2020
By Asian Vision Institute*

Risks and impacts stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic are huge and widely distributed. The world is bracing for a massive systemic global crisis with its scale and magnitude unprecedented in history since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The strength of global governance and humanity are being tested. A global economic recession is looming due to stringent measures being adopted by many countries to curb the spread of Covid-19. Global supply chains have been severely disrupted. Global financial institutions are also facing challenges in sustaining liquidity. Many low-income households are unable to service debts.

Geopolitical tension in some parts of the world is getting more complex and volatile due to the heightening power competition and politicisation of the Covid-19 disease at both national and international levels. The shrinking of strategic trust between major powers is obstructing international coordination and collective efforts in addressing the global pandemic and its associated risks. The US-China rivalry is poised to get worse in the coming months and years. The Asian Vision Institute (AVI) urges all countries and international organisations to work together in solidarity to save human life and global economic lifeline. It is high time for cooperation not contestation. It is high time for collective responses not blame games.

At home, Cambodia is facing mounting multiple risks stemming from the pandemic. The risks are fast multiplying. The economic fallout has started to hit hard the core of the country’s economy, causing the entire economic system to tremble. Some Cambodians have become worried and anxious about their future. Some have lost jobs and incomes, while others have fallen into debt, all of which are affecting their mental health and well-being. Survival has become a key word to describe Cambodia’s current situation. AVI calls for everyone from all walks of life to stay united and resilient as we are going through this difficult time together.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Cambodia’s economic growth rate will be contracted to -1.6 per cent this year, which is the lowest growth rate Cambodia has ever seen since the formation of the Second Kingdom in 1993. Cambodia’s three main economic sectors- textile, tourism and construction- are being hit really hard. Besides, people working in the informal economic sector such as taxi drivers, artists, small shop keepers, waiters and waitress, hairdressers, and other small service providers are the most vulnerable groups.

In addition to the socio-economic risks, water scarcity is an emerging risk which is going to affect the livelihoods of rural farmers and disrupt food supply and security in general. All the​risks are interrelated and systemic, and the likelihood of their impacts are really high. The hidden risks though are social and political ones which are mainly caused by economic recession and high unemployment rate. The erosion of public trust and confidence in the government is the most dangerous factor that might lead to social disorder and political instability.

We need to recognise that this is a systemic crisis producing complex and interrelated risks that might lead to the collapse of the entire governance system. We need to prepare ourselves for a long-term fight against the pandemic disease and its associated impacts and risks. It will be Cambodia’s long march against the pandemic and its long-term struggle for economic recovery.

A holistic (whole-of-nation or whole-of-society) approach is urgently needed to deal with such a crisis of an unprecedented scale and magnitude. Striking the right balance between public health security and economic security is a great challenge. The Cambodian government has carefully crafted its emergency responses to the Covid-19 pandemic while trying to reduce the unintended economic and social costs from the containment and mitigation measures. The implementation of future policy responses and measures will depend largely on the situation on the ground. We need to rely on reliable data and science to make accurate decisions. Maintaining varying degrees of social distancing measures, travel restrictions, and personal and community hygiene will last for at least another year until reliable vaccines are found. Some scientists have optimistically predicted that the vaccines might be ready by spring next year.

In such contexts, systems thinking and solutions are required to effectively address the crisis. Systems thinking is an analytical way of seeing the interrelationships between and among different factors and of seeing the patterns of change or transformation. Systems solutions require multi-stakeholder partnership and collaboration. It is imperative for leaders (from both public and private sectors) to increase their resilience to ensure that they continue to gain public trust and confidence. Cambodia must be prepared to cope with multiple risks and to stay vigilant against the pandemic. The country must be prepared to deal with the pandemic-driven systemic crisis.

It is imperative to develop a comprehensive crisis response mechanism and an effective communication strategy. It is also crucial to urgently introduce holistic and people-centric measures to sustain the lifeline of the economy, maintain social cohesion and trust in the government, and enhance the recovery process. Fiscal, monetary and tax policies; social protection programs; and climate resilience projects must be simultaneously executed. Three key words that we need to communicate are: Solidarity, Compassion, and Collaboration. Everyone is part of the solutions. Together, we can overcome the crisis, win the war against the pandemic, bounce back fast, and get prepared well for future crises.