As of 2000, 43 percent of households had access to electricity. Many villages have no electricity. In the cities getting electricity often has meant stealing electricity from the person next door. In some town a few lights flicker on in the evening when generators are started up and turn off around 11:00am when the generators sputter off.

Much of Cambodia still depends on fuel driven generators despite, the country’s huge hydroelectric potential.

Cambodia’s hydroelectric generating potential is considerable, especially from the swift current of the middle Mekong River where it flows through Stoeng Treng and Kracheh provinces. Other sites of minor importance are on rivers in the highlands of the northeastern and north-central parts of the country. Although the Tonle Sap is Cambodia's dominant hydraulic feature, the rivers flowing into this great lake have little or no exploitable potential. In general, development of the country's water potential appears to be more important for the expansion of irrigation than for the production of electricity. [Source: Library of Congress, 1987]

See Relations with China

Biodigester and Dung Power in Cambodia

Ker Munthit of Associated Press wrote: “Nget Loun’s rickety old thatched house is typical of Cambodia’s impoverished countryside, but it holds a surprise inside: a state of the art, environment-friendly gas stove. Off the grid as far as most utilities are concerned, her household and 29 others in the village of Tamoung get a steady supply of clean energy from human and animal waste, using a device that not only makes cooking less of a chore, but also keeps their gardens flourishing and helps save the forests. [Source: Ker Munthit, May 31, 2005 ]

“At the centre of the experiment is a device called a biological gas digester – or biodigester – which converts a by-product of manure into cooking gas. The technology has taken hold in other countries as a way to generate gas or electricity, and now an independent development group is hoping to spread it to Cambodia’s poor rural people. Brendan Boucher, the Australian co-ordinator for the non-profit Cambodian Rural Development Team, which is financed by donations from abroad, introduced the project last year in Tamoung, a village in Takeo province 70km south of the capital Phnom Penh. Boucher says biogas stoves can help improve food security for villagers and reduce the pressures on Cambodia’s fast-disappearing forests, which are relied on for firewood.

“Som Chhear, 57, says he used to trek 10km from home to find firewood to store for use during the rainy season. When his supply ran low, he had to spend 10,000 riel (RM9.30) a month on buying firewood or charcoal from a nearby market. Now, his biodigester not only provides him with free cooking gas, but also with nutrient-rich effluent – organic fertiliser – that “keeps my vegetable garden green for all seasons.” Nget Loun, 25, says the biogas stove makes cooking an easier chore. “The cooking pots and my hands are no longer dirtied with black smoke from burning wood,” she says. “And it has absolutely no smell,” she adds while opening the gas valve and firing up the stove with a lighter. Boucher notes an additional benefit: the introduction of toilets, a hygienic convenience absent from most rural Cambodian homes.

“Human and animal waste is flushed through the toilet into a plastic “digester” tube 10m long and 1.5m in diameter that sits in a ditch under a thatched roof. At the far end, a knee-deep trench collects liquid residue for use as fertiliser. A PVC pipe attached to the tube’s midsection channels methane gas emitted by the manure mix into a plastic storage bag in the house, from which it is fed into the stove. Each unit cost about 400,000 riel (RM380) to set up.

“Twenty-five biodigesters were installed, serving 30 of the village’s 130 families. Ownership of at least three cows was a prerequisite – making 100 families eligible – and a random drawing selected those who got the systems. Boucher says biogas units are part of an integrated development package of water wells, fish ponds, vegetable gardens and training in farming methods, all meant to bolster food security. About half of Cambodia’s 13 million people live on less than 4,000 riel (RM3.8) a day, so many families are at the mercy of nature for their sustenance. The entire package for Tamoung village cost 540,440,000 riel (RM513,418), which was paid by the Australian government.

“Previous efforts to promote biogas technology in Cambodia more than a decade ago met with limited success. About 500 biogas units were installed but most were abandoned by users within one or two years, says San Thy, a researcher at the Centre for Livestock and Agriculture Development, another non-profit group. One reason was that peasants failed to keep a suitable number of livestock. “Sometimes, needing money, they just sold their entire stock. Without supplies of manure, the digesters simply don’t work,” San Thy says.

“Boucher says that providing villages with integrated systems that include components for sustainable development – such as fish ponds and vegetable gardens – can generate income to pay for maintenance of the biodigesters. “We don’t profess what we do will alleviate poverty throughout Cambodia, but it certainly goes a huge way in improving food security, increasing incomes and the livelihoods of people,” he says. It has been a boon for Chent Dejorith’s family, which raises pigs. He says his brother-in-law figured out how to use the methane gas to power a small generator, which pumps water from their well to sell to other villagers. His family has been using the new technology to generate power for four months. “Sometimes, we even use the power from the generator to operate our karaoke machine and sing for fun,” he says.

Swedish-Funded Dams in Vietnam Ruin Cambodian Villages

Theis Broegger of wrote: “Cambodian villagers are condemning Vietnam’s plans to build more dams on its side of the border, because the already existing dams are causing great destruction in populated areas. The dams are funded by Sweden and Norway. Enough is enough. That was the message delivered by ten agitated community representatives from the north-eastern Cambodian province of Stung Treng during a meeting with some of the officials responsible for Vietnam’s plans to construct additional dams on the Vietnamese side of the border. [Source: Theis Broegger,, January 21, 2007 ]

The Cambodian activists claim this was the first time in more than a decade of Scandinavian aid-backed hydro-planning along rivers shared by Vietnam and Cambodia that the Scandinavian consultants and the Vietnam Electricity (EVN) have agreed to meet with affected residents and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). ''We have no hope that Vietnam will give any compensation to the Cambodian people affected by their dams,'' one of the Cambodian community representatives, Chao Chantha, 46, told News Mekong after the meeting.

"Since 2004, we have been experiencing unnatural floods two to three times a year. We are aware that the floods are caused by hydroelectric dams built upstream in Vietnam,'' Chao Chantha explained, referring to the construction activity that started in 2003 for a series of dams in the Srepok river basin. In Chao Chantha’s village in Banmei, 83 families are already negatively affected by dams across the Srepok that flows into Cambodia. For two years, releases of water from the dams have unleashed floods that caused the rice plants to rot. Their livelihoods affected, most residents are being forced to go to other provinces and find work in the garment or construction industries. A few families have decided to stick it out, but their crops are ruined by repeated flooding. In the Rattanakkiri and Stung Treng provinces, an estimated total of 11,000 villagers living along the Srepok river basin have been facing negative impacts from hydropower development of the river basin. While the affected villagers are still awaiting compensation, many fear that the new dam projects – which will include four dams – will bring the same environmental impact.

Representatives of the Srepok communities called for a suspension of dam construction, compensation from dam builders, and a stop to the EIA processes and to financing of dam projects that had no support from the local population.The EVN and its Scandinavian partners have earlier promised to halt the dam construction if evidence would prove that it would have a dangerous impact on the environment as well as populated areas. However, a representative from the EVN claims that the flooding and irregular living conditions experienced by the villages in the provinces of Rattanakkiri and Stung have not been caused by the dam constructions, but by severe weather conditions.

Oil in Cambodia

In late 1969, the Cambodian government granted a permit to a French company to explore for petroleum in the Gulf of Thailand. By 1972 none had been located, and exploration ceased when the Khmer Republic fell in 1975. Subsequent oil and gas discoveries in the Gulf of Thailand and in the South China Sea, however, have sparked renewed interest in Cambodia's offshore area, especially because the country is on the same continental shelf as its Southeast Asian oil-producing neighbors.

Seth Mydans wrote in the The New York Times, “Cambodia has come face to face with an extraordinary new future: it seems to have struck oil. The oil giant Chevron says it has found potentially huge deposits off the southern shore, as a result of exploratory drilling that began in 2005. The company has not made the results known, but given other likely deposits nearby and with mineral finds being explored onshore, experts say, Cambodia could be a resource-rich nation. Cambodia has six potential oil fields in the Gulf of Thailand, more than 160 kilometers off Sihanoukville, as well as several other fields in areas that are disputed by Thailand. [Source: Seth Mydans, The New York Times, May 7, 2007 **]

“In early 2005, in the first of the six Gulf of Thailand fields to be explored, Chevron said it had found oil in four of five wells. Two more rounds of exploratory drilling have followed. The rush of foreign countries whose oil companies have staked claims includes China, which controls one of the six potential fields in the Gulf. China has become Cambodia's biggest commercial investor, its biggest aid donor and its hungriest consumer of raw materials, pushing ahead with big hydropower and road-building projects. **

In December 2012, AFP reported: Cambodia “gave the green light to construction of its first oil refinery, a multi-billion-dollar Chinese-backed project, as the kingdom looks to tap its untouched offshore reserves. Cambodia's oil and gas regulator approved a deal to allow SINOMACH China Perfect Machinery Industry Corp. and Cambodian Petrochemical Co. jointly invest $2.3 billion in the plant in the southwest of the country. "We hope that we will have an oil refinery plant that can produce five million tonnes of oil products a year," Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said during the signing ceremony. The plant is expected to start operating in late 2015. [Source: AFP, December 28, 2012 ==]

Cambodia had hoped to begin pumping oil in December 2012 from offshore fields, but the start has been delayed indefinitely, according to government officials. Production stalled amid apparent wrangling between the government and US energy giant Chevron over revenue sharing. ==

Oil, the Military and Corruption in Cambodia

In February 2009, The Economist reported: “A recent report, called “Country for Sale”, by a London-based NGO, Global Witness, points out that amendments to a 1991 law had the effect of placing the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority (CNPA), the body administering oil contracts, under the direct control of Hun Sen, the prime minister, and Sok An, his deputy. It alleges that millions of dollars paid to the government to secure oil concessions do not show up in the official annual revenue reports. [Source: The Economist , February 26th 2009 )(]

“The World Bank consistently ranks Cambodia in the bottom 10 percent of all countries for controlling corruption. Michael McWalter of the Asian Development Bank, who advises the Cambodian government on oil, argues that the CNPA is underfinanced and ill-equipped to deal with the complexities of the oil business. In March last year the United Nations Development Programme and the Norwegian government jointly organised a conference to discuss what the government should do. The advice included the creation of an independent, transparent oil fund. This however, was largely based on the experience of Norway, which has an effective system of checks and balances. )(

“Cambodia does not, and Mr Hun Sen and Mr Sok An have still not come up with a coherent plan for managing the oil revenues. According to Global Witness, the government decided at a meeting with donors not to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international coalition that would require full disclosure of oil, gas and mining revenues. Rather, it agreed to endorse only the principles underpinning the EITI, making its rules non-binding. )(

In August 2007, Associated Press reported: Cambodia is boosting its navy to help protect newly discovered offshore oil fields that could prove lucrative for the impoverished country, officials said. As part of the plan, the government recently transferred a brigade of soldiers from the army to the navy, said Yim Sovann, an opposition party lawmaker who heads a parliamentary committee on defense and the interior. The move "responds to the routine need to protect maritime borders and, more especially, the offshore oil fields being explored in Cambodia," said Yim Sovann, a lawmaker from the Sam Rainsy Party. [Source: Associated Press, August 11, 2007]

Oil in Cambodia: Economic Boon or Disaster?

According to a report by the Asia Economic Institute: “Multiple studies have been conducted to estimate the amount of oil in the off the Cambodia coast. Institutions such as the UN, World Bank and Harvard University have concluded that there might be as much as 2 billion barrels of oil and 10 trillion cubic feet of gas in the Cambodian reserves. Given the current prices on oil and gas, these reserves could provide Cambodia with an extra US $6 billion every year for the next twenty years. This would more than double the GDP, which according to 2006 estimates stands at US $5.122 billion. [Source: Asia Economic Institute,, 2007 ]

“The country has designated six exploration blocks, only one of which, Block A, has been explored. The US-based firm Chevron conducted the exploration of Block A and is said to have hit oil in five out of six wells. Chevron is leading an international pack of oil companies interested in gaining access to Cambodia’s resources. Energy companies from France, China, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore are said to be bidding for exploration licenses and production agreements.

“This sort of economic boon has the potential to lift one of the world’s most impoverished nations out of poverty, but experts worry that this potential will never be realized. The fear is that Cambodia will fall under the ‘oil curse’. When a developing nation finds itself with sudden wealth, it can result in an increase in corruption and a widening gap between the rich and the poor. Experts point to the example of Nigeria, which is the biggest oil-producing nation in Africa but in which 70 percent of the population live off $1 a day.

“Cambodia seems especially likely to follow this path. Cambodia is already known for its corruption, and is currently governed by a Prime Minister, Hun Sen, who has been accused of putting little value on the rights of Cambodians. Foreign aid donors have been keeping the government in check by making aid contingent on respect of human rights, but once Cambodia reaps the benefit of the oil reserves it will not be reliant on foreign aid and will be able to act without the oversight of foreign organizations and governments.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen has heard the voice of the skeptics and responded strongly. At the 2007 Cambodia Economic Outlook Conference, he stated that any income from the oil would be put back into the country through development projects. The Prime Minister sees the oil as a blessing that will sustain Cambodia’s long-term growth, reduce poverty and foster economic diversity. While experts warn of the ‘oil curse’, some acknowledge that this economic windfall can greatly benefit the country, givent that it is used correctly. The US Ambassador to Cambodia, Joseph A. Mussomeli, called for Cambodia to create a transparent policy framework and develop institutions to prevent the oil money from being misused. He added that if handled properly, this money could change the country considerably in the next ten years.

Water in Cambodia

About 25 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water. The number drops below 10 percent when rivers and ponds dry up.

Rural Cambodians often bath in and drink water that is also used by animals. Water-born diseases such as dysentery are relatively common. In one survey, 82 percent of the children in Kampot Province suffer from parasitic illnesses. Many have chronic diarrhea directly linked to drinking contaminated water.

A number foreign aid agencies are helping Cambodians to dig wells and install ponds. People are also being educated that it is much safer to drink well water to stagnant pond water. In some places there has been resistance to this because people prefer the taste of the pond water. There have also been projects to encourage people to build toilets an improve sanitation.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

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