United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Lifeline for vulnerable Cambodians as poverty rises during COVID-19 pandemic

United Nations Cambodia, Resident Coordinator Office (
United Nations / Multilateral body

    As a result of the pandemic, modeling by UNDP and the Ministry of Economy & Finance predicted that poverty could double to 17.6% and GDP fall to -4.11%. But with stimulus spending including social protection economic growth improves by 1% and poverty by more than 4%. With these this in mind, the government, alongside partners which include UNDP and UNICEF, decided to strengthen the level of social protection in the country. The UN agencies, and other partners, focused on supporting the new “Cash Transfer Programme for Poor and Vulnerable Households”, by providing the digital tools needed to ensure that almost 700,000 households listed on the scheme’s database receive funds in a cashless form, either through their phone or via a card.

    Implementation of the Project/Activity

    The UN family supported the Government in rolling out its first social assistance cash transfer programme to all Cambodians living below the national poverty line, as identified by the ID Poor program. This build on GIZ’s long term support that had helped the RGC to establish a fully digital ID Poor platform. The UN’s role, led by UNICEF and UNDP, was to provide the support to help Government rapidly upscale from a series of small pilot programs to one that covered all people below the poverty line. The UN support included providing tablet computers for all Government staff working on ID Poor registration, down to community level, and the necessary training and support. Under the programme, each eligible and registered household receives either $20 or $30 a month depending on poverty status (i.e., Poor 1 or Poor 2), as a basic benefit. In addition, the household receives top-up amounts for members of vulnerable groups including pregnant women, children under 2, the elderly, people with disabilities and people living with HIV. The UN took the opportunity for medium and longer term building of social protection and insurance in Cambodia. With the World Bank, UNDP is working on improving the poor identification process and at the same time helping the Royal Government of Cambodia to move to a more universal and rights-based system, starting with pensions for the aged. The UN is also working closely with the Government to measure the social and economic impact of the cash transfers so far, to help build a solid business case for further social protection investments. Resources: The Government spent about US$200 million for the cash transfer program running from late June to Dec 2020. The Government also allocates a budget of US$200 million for 2021.


    The early, collective focus of the UN support has accelerated the expansion of the country’s nascent social protection system as the core of emergency response to build back better for the SDGs. The UN support includes identifying policy options for social protection measures, designing the implementation of cash transfers to poor households, identifying and registering poor households, and monitoring and evaluating the social protection programmes. As a result of this effort the Government officially announced that 700,000 poor households, which comprise approximately 2.8 million people, have access to the cash transfer programme. This was the first time that the RGC could quickly scale up the social protection system to support poor households based on the IDPoor system and achieve remarkable results within a short timeframe - making a significant difference for poor and vulnerable households.

    Enabling factors and constraints

    Innovative methods of engagement include the use of digital technology which was crucial to enable a rapid expansion and identification of eligible households, including returning migrants and those who have recently experienced Covid-19 induced income shocks. Moreover, the use of mobile money payment for swiftly transferring cash to the eligible poor and vulnerable households helped protect the livelihoods of the poor and vulnerable groups affected by the pandemic.

    Sustainability and replicability

    To ensure accountability and sustainability, the Government has established a Technical Working Group to manage and monitor the implementation of the Cash Transfer (CT) program. The TWG composes of senior officials from relevant line ministries involved in the program such as Ministry of Economy and Finance, Ministry of Planning, Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, and National Social Protection Council. Building on the success to respond to the pandemic induced crisis, the Government is working on developing a family package social assistance program to succeed this CT program. The program is likely to stimulate a consolidation and scale-up of social protection system in the country. The UN also builds on other programs in place such as the UN joint programme (ILO, UNICEF, WHO) contributing to the nation-wide rollout of the comprehensive National Social Protection Policy Framework (NSPPF) which was established for the first time in Cambodia.

    Other sources of information

    Human impact story: https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/02/1085122 National Social Protection Council: https://nspc.gov.kh/social-assistance-cambodia Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation: http://www.mosvy.gov.kh/en/article/604

    COVID-19 Impact

    Together with the Royal Government of Cambodia, the United Nations identified social protection and recovery of poor and near-poor households as an immediate priority of the COVID-19 response, and a key component of the UN’s Socio-economic Response Framework. The Government will continue the cash transfer program for the first three months of 2021. Depending on the socio-economic situation, the Government will consider continuing the program after the first three months of 2021.

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    This initiative does not yet fulfil the SMART criteria.
    01 June 2020 (start date)
    31 December 2021 (date of completion)
    Other beneficiaries

    Beneficiaries: The Cash Transfer Programme covers more than 700,000 poor and vulnerable households, which is equivalent to around 2.8 million people. Partnerships: The program has fostered a consensus among the Government, donors, and civil society that protecting the poor and vulnerable people is central to the COVID-19 responses. The program has also increased the trust and engagement between the Government and DPs.

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    Contact Information

    Kongchheng , RCO Economist