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Monday, November 02, 2009

In Cambodia, a Cry for Small-Scale Subsidies

A $20 solar-powered lamp could benefit millions of rural Cambodian residents, but most still can’t afford it. Subsidies, its makers say, are sorely needed.

By Simon Marks

Generous subsidies for businesses and tax incentives for consumers are needed if developing countries like Cambodia are to promote renewable energy alternatives — particularly in rural areas — a conference in Phnom Penh on green energy was told last week.

At the moment, conference participants complained, such incentives are sorely lacking.
“Cambodian investors have low investment capital,” said Rin Seyha, the managing director of SME Renewable Energy, a Cambodian-based renewable energy investment firm. Unlike neighboring Vietnam, there is very little in the way of tax incentives and subsidies on loans for renewable energy companies, he said.

Jeroen Verschelling, the director of Kamworks, a Cambodian-based solar energy company, said consumers who wish to use more environmentally friendly energy sources are often forced to ask for assistance from microfinance institutions that tend to provide loans with extremely high interest rates.

Mr Verschelling complained that large scale coal plant and hydropower projects are able to easily secure financing. For smaller, renewable projects, “it is much harder to do that,” he said.
According to the environmental group Geres, 80 percent of Cambodia’s energy consumption comes from biomass, mostly from burning timber. The United Nations Development Program estimates that just 20 percent of the population has access to the national power grid.

Small, renewable energy developers say this means most energy-sector financing is directed at projects that benefit only a fifth of Cambodia’s residents.

Kamworks has recently launched a basic solar powered light for people in rural areas. The lamp, which retails for about $20, needs direct sunlight during the day and at night runs for about 12 hours on its lowest setting, or about three hours on its highest.

“To pay $20 at once is a huge amount for local people,” said Patrick Kooijman, the marketing director for Kamworks, who added that the lamps really ought to be given away for free. “I think that the private sector getting involved in things like this is the only way it really can work in the long term.”

Meanwhile, Margaret Ryan, an energy consultant for Khmer Solar, which specializes in solar power installation, said that despite government efforts to slash import tariffs on equipment used for renewable energy sources — tariff rates on imports have been reduced form 35 percent to seven percent on items such as solar panels and battery chargers and have been altogether eliminated for items such as wind and hydraulic turbines — the Cambodian consumer is generally unable to afford the costs of installing solar panels.

“Even if labor is very inexpensive, it is still costly,” she said. “Any expense is too much expense.”
In order to reduce prices, Khmer solar is encouraging Cambodians to install the equipment themselves by disseminating simple installation leaflets and employing operators who can troubleshoot for clients with technical issues.

But these efforts are merely a drop in the pond when trying to make any major inroad into Cambodia’s energy sector.

“The next obstacle to overcome will be a workable plan for a subsidy,” Ms. Ryan said. “It would be wonderful if the government subsidizes the poorest to get solar systems. But I doubt it will happen.”
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Danish man charged with child sex abuse in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, A Cambodian court has charged a Danish man with sexually abusing three underage girls in a northwestern border town, officials said Monday.

Banteay Meanchey provincial court on Sunday charged Kenneth Hansen-Jorgen, 61, with sexual abuse of children and he faces at least 10 years in jail if convicted, prosecutor So Vath told AFP.

The mother of one of the children was also charged with prostituting her daughter to the suspect, the prosecutor said.

Hansen-Jorgen allegedly crossed from Thailand into Cambodia and took the girls, all aged under 15, to a guesthouse in the border town of Poipet, said provincial police chief Hun Hean.

"He has confessed to us through translation that he has had sex with the girls, and the victims have also told us about him," the police chief added.

Dozens of foreigners have been jailed for child sex crimes or deported to face trial in their home countries since Cambodia launched an anti-paedophilia push in 2003 to try to shake off its reputation as a haven for sex predators.

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Taiwan smuggler gets 37 years

PHNOM PENH - A CAMBODIAN court has sentenced a Taiwanese man to 37 years in jail for drug smuggling and possession of illegal weapons, a judge said on Monday.

Judge Chhay Kong of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court said he sentenced 21-year-old Hsiao Kuo-leang on Friday after finding him guilty of trying to smuggle a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of heroin and possession of two handguns.

Hsiao, who was arrested in late 2008 when authorities found the drugs in his car, was also ordered to pay a fine of US$25,000 (S$35,000), the judge said.

The judge added that Hsiao also testified that he was hired by another Taiwanese man to set up a laboratory in order to produce drugs to smuggle out of Cambodia.

In recent years a number of Taiwanese nationals, including a 90-year-old man, have been jailed for attempting to smuggle narcotics out of the Cambodian capital.

Although drug arrests have increased, Cambodia is becoming an increasingly popular trafficking point for methamphetamines and heroin, particularly since neighbouring Thailand toughened its stance on illegal drugs. -- AFP

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AHF/Cambodia CARES to launch its AIDS testing initiative during the annual Water Festival

During Last Year's 'One Million Tests' World AIDS Day 2008 Campaign, AHF/Cambodia CARES and Cambodian Partners Surpassed Country's 30,000 Testing Goal by Testing 35,034

As part of an ambitious global effort to test several million people for HIV in observance of the Testing Millions World AIDS Day 2009 campaign, AHF/Cambodia CARES will launch its inaugural testing effort during the annual Water Festival, which marks the end of the rainy season and is the largest festival in the Cambodian calendar. The Water Festival commences Sunday, November 1st. AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest AIDS group in the US which currently provides AIDS medical care and services to more than 120,000 individuals in 22 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, the Asia Pacific Region and Eastern Europe, is spearheading the worldwide initiative to test millions. Last year, AHF led the successful 'One Million Tests/World AIDS Day 2008' campaign during which AHF/Cambodia CARES and its Cambodian partners surpassed their country goal of performing 30,000 tests by testing 35,034 individuals, identifying 1,112 HIV positive individuals in the process. The 2008 campaign far exceeded its goal of performing one million tests by testing 1,603,272 people and identifying 61,399 HIV positive people.

AHF/Cambodia CARES, which partners with NCHADS in operating 12 free AIDS treatment clinics throughout the country, has also taken a leadership role to coordinate and partner with other stakeholders to reach as many people as possible for the HIV testing and the Love Condom campaign. As its part of the in-country component of the global testing campaign, AHF/Cambodia CARES has committed to testing 12,000 people for HIV throughout the month of November in Cambodia, one of the countries in the Asia Pacific region that has been hardest-hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

"With the beginning of the Water Festival, AHF/Cambodia CARES will get an early start and launch our country's participation in the 'Testing Millions' World AIDS Day 2009 campaign. We will be testing in Phnom Penh and other provinces and link those found to be positive to a clinic for follow up care and access to lifesaving antiretroviral treatment as well as the positive prevention to stop the spreading of the virus, and those who found as negative will learn about HIV prevention to keep them stay negative" said Chhim Sarath, M.D., AHF Country Director for Cambodia.

Cambodia is one of the poorest nations in Asia and also has one of the most rapidly growing HIV/AIDS epidemics in the region. The HIV epidemic has spread beyond high-risk groups such as sex workers, male police officers, factory workers, mobile populations, injection drug users and men who have sex with men, to the general population.

The number of Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) centers in Cambodia has increased dramatically over the last 5 years (only 12 sites in 2000 to 216 sites by the end of first quarter 2009). Of the current 216 VCT centers, 194 are supported directly by the government, while 22 are supported by non-governmental organizations.

SOURCE AIDS Healthcare Foundation
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