Crown Prince Haakon brings goodwill to Cambodia

HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway on October 4 in Phnom Penh began his four-day trip to Cambodia as a Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to advocate for bridging the poverty gap in Cambodia.
     The Norwegian Crown Prince chose Cambodia for his trip because it is considered a priority country in need of urgent action in order to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which is a set of time-bound and quantifiable targets aimed at reducing poverty, hunger, illiteracy, HIV/AIDS and discrimination, by 2015 – agreed to by world leaders in 2000.
     “Development is all about people,” said the Crown Prince at a press conference on October 5 in Phnom Penh. “It’s up to the Cambodian people to find their way on how to develop their country. Development is a long-term project which unfortunately does not happen over night. It needs to be built stone by stone, day by day. That is why coordination and preparation of the efforts of the Cambodian Government, the UN, the bilateral donors and NGOs is so important. My visit here is only one small part of this effort,” he added.
     Since the Norwegian Crown Prince was appointed goodwill ambassador for UNDP a year ago, he has particularly focused on the fight against HIV/ AIDS. He undertook an official visit to Tanzania last April, where he met with several grass roots groups engaged in fighting HIV/AIDS.
     The visit to Cambodia on October 4–7 saw the Crown Prince participate in a “community conversation” on HIV/AIDS in the Commune of Prek Dak, where he met with young leaders living with HIV/AIDS who had decided to fight the stigma and discrimination by speaking up about their situation.
     “Frankness and openness about intimate and sometimes difficult issues is important if we want to succeed in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” said Crown Prince Haakon. “Your courage is inspiring,” the Crown Prince added.
     “Openness is important because it makes you understand. And what you understand you don’t fear,” he continued. “Cambodia is one of the few places where one has been able to reverse the spread of the epidemic. This tells us that your courage does yield result and that what you are doing is important,” said the Crown Prince.
     Although it is the country with the highest prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS in Asia, Cambodia has, through strong political leadership, been able to lower the number of people getting infected by HIV from 100 to 20 everyday.
     Having emerged from nearly three decades of conflict, Cambodia still faces many problems and is still one of the world’s poorest countries. About half of the country’s 13 million people live on less than US$1 per day.
     “Cambodia is a young democracy which is faced with serious development challenges at the same time as the country is trying to recover from a difficult past. However, it has become clear in all my conversation, from the top leadership to the grass root level, that in order to succeed, democratic governance needs to be the focus of all our efforts,” said the Crown Prince.
     During the four-day trip, the Crown Prince has talked with youth leaders and community members in Phnom Penh, Kampong Chnang and Siem Reap as well as Prime Minister Hun Sen, women parliamentarians, senior government officials and UN representatives.
     Also included in his trip was a visit to the QMI factory in Phnom Penh, which has its head office, Quint Major Industrial Co., in Thailand. The Crown Prince met and talked with garment workers at the factory, which has 8,000 workers and 90 percent of whom are women. He also visited community fisheries in the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve where he saw community-based natural resource management and conservation efforts.
     Cambodia’s progress toward meeting the MDGs is mixed. Access to primary education has improved over the last decade and HIV prevalence fell from 3.3 percent to 2.6 percent from 1997-2002. But child mortality has risen over the past 10 years and progress on maternal mortality has been limited. The international targets call for reducing child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters by 2015.
     The Cambodia MDGs Report released earlier this year says that for those particular goals to be met, decisive action needs to be taken to reduce the high rate of malnutrition, increase the number of trained health workers, improve access to health care, provide adequate funding to the health sector, and strengthen public financial management.
     “Bearing in mind Cambodia’s difficult past, it is impressive how far Cambodia has come in such a short time,” said the Crown Prince.
     He noted that the MDGs are at the core of Norway’s newly developed Action Plan for Combating Poverty, and that the government has taken the goals as its guiding principle in all its development cooperation.
     For UNDP Resident Representative Douglas Gardner, the Crown Prince’s visit to Cambodia is a great opportunity to tell the story of Cambodia to the Norwegian people, and also raise awareness and educate people on the importance of such a campaign in Cambodia.
     “While the Government has shown strong commitment in using the MDGs as the cornerstone of their development policies and strategies, we are hoping that the visit of the Crown Prince will help build new coalitions and invigorate concrete actions,” Douglas Gardner says.

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