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Monday, March 08, 2010

Lending Scheme to Bring Solar to Cambodia’s Poor


With access to solar-powered energy products for Cambodia’s rural poor extremely limited, the solar energy company Kamworks and the Cambodia Mutual Savings and Credit Network are partnering to provide low-interest loans to customers hoping to outfit their homes with solar panels, while Kamworks will provide and install the equipment.

Directors at the two companies said the scheme — the first of its kind in Cambodia — will help the country’s rural poor gain access to renewable energy.

“You have to say the investment for solar-powered technology is higher initially than fossil fuels,” said Jeroen Verschelling, a director at Kamworks. “Even though there is a payback time of less than one year, people still find it very hard to make the investment.”

Mr Verschelling said all the equipment Kamworks produces will have to be of the highest quality as “the moment it stops working the client will stop paying” back the loan and the foundations of the entire partnership will come undone.

Buyers interested in equipping their homes with solar technologies will first pay a visit to Cambodia Mutual Savings, which will share retail space with Kamworks at a building in Cambodia’s Kandal province, to take out a loan ranging from $25 to $599, depending on the product. A visit to Kamworks would complete the purchase.

Customers can go for a small solar-powered lantern, which aims to replace kerosene lighting at a cost of $25, or they can purchase a complete solar home system, which ranges from $199 for a 20-watt array to $599 for 80 watts.

The lantern comes with a one-year warranty, while the panel systems are covered for 20 years.

“This should create less dependency on fossil fuels for power,” said Mr Verschelling. “We are trying to do something about climate change.”

Mr Verschelling said that entering the market before the national grid expands is probably its best bet with less than 20 percent of rural inhabitants with a sustained power supply for electricity.

“I’m not sure if the grid is really the answer for the poor parts of society,” he said. “It’s not a clean energy source as most of the energy comes from fossil fuels.”

Moreover, once the loan is paid off, households fitted with the solar products should see their living costs decline.

“It is totally new and if it is efficient we can develop it further,” said Christine Dellocque, managing director at Cambodia Mutual.

Ms. Dellocque said the lender had determined interest rates for the loans — which could be as low as 1.7 percent — by conducting studies of household wages and saving capabilities among potential borrowers in Kandal province.

Before a loan is handed out, Cambodia Mutual will ensure that borrowers have set up a savings account at the company, a measure Ms. Dellocque said will act as security to the loan.

“If clients have a capacity for saving, they also have the capacity for credit,” she said.

Ms. Dellocque added that using traditional collateral — land titles and property — as security for such small loans was unbalanced. Instead, the solar panels themselves will be used as collateral, she said.
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Rape victims face bribes, corruption

Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Rape victims seeking justice in Cambodia face serious obstacles such as police who demand bribes before making an arrest, a human rights report released today said.

The report by Amnesty International says the incidence of rape appears to be growing in Cambodia, but corruption and discrimination within the police and courts prevent rapists from being prosecuted.

The London-based group based its findings on research in 10 provinces last year and dozens of interviews with rape victims between the ages of 10 and 40, family members, government officials, rights groups, medical personnel, police and lawyers.

One of those interviewed was the father of an 19-year-old woman with a learning disability who was raped twice. The father said police asked him for 100,000 riel ($25) to arrest his daughter's attacker — an amount roughly equivalent to the monthly salary of a civil servant.

"Police only work if you have money, if you can pay," the father was quoted as saying in the report. "But we don't have that. And if you don't, the police just ignore the case."

Donna Guest, Amnesty's Asia-Pacific deputy director, said some rape victims were forced to marry their attackers as part of a deal between the families involved, who see it as a way to marry off a woman stigmatized by rape while dropping the complaint against her attacker.

"For too many survivors of rape, the pursuit of justice and medical support adds further distress to the initial abuse," Guest said.

Amnesty urged the Cambodian government to "publicly condemn sexual violence," saying much more needs to be done to dispel the stigma associated with rape.

There are no comprehensive statistics on rape and sexual violence against women and girls in the country, but officials at the National Police, the Ministry of Women's Affairs and elsewhere "believe the incidence of rape in Cambodia is increasing and that a growing number of victims are children," the report said.

Police recorded 468 cases of rape, attempted rape and sexual harassment in 2009, a 24 percent increase over the previous year, but those figures are considered low and unreliable, the report said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak confirmed that rapes cases in Cambodia appear to be increasing, but he criticized the Amnesty report as overly negative.

"Even though there is an increase in rape cases, I can assure you that all of the rapists we have arrested are in jail," he said.

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Rape risk rises in Cambodia, says Amnesty International

By Guy DeLauney
BBC News, Cambodia

Human rights organisations in Cambodia have called for the government to tackle the rising incidence of rape.

A report by Amnesty International says victims have limited access to justice, medical services and counselling.

It claims that rape cases are often settled by cash payments to the victim - or bribes to the authorities.

Official statistics show a significant increase of the number of rapes reported to police last year - almost a quarter more than in 2008.

But Amnesty says the true figure may be much higher - because many victims never tell the authorities about their attacks.

Commander's block

Its report highlights a lack of faith in law enforcement officials and the judicial process.

One incident cited involved a policeman accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a karaoke bar.

His commanding officer refused to press charges - and insisted the attack could not be considered rape, as the woman had not been a virgin.

The government has acknowledged that sexual violence is a problem.

In a speech last week, the minister of women's affairs said there were increasing fears of gang rape.

She suggested that increasing access to alcohol, drugs and pornography was responsible.

Social workers say that a change in attitude towards victims of sexual violence is sorely needed.

Sun Maly runs a women's safe house in Battambang province.

"When they become victims of rape like this they become stigmatised by their own community. Especially in the case of children - when they've been sexually assaulted they drop out of school because of discrimination or embarrassment," she said.

Amnesty says that that many cases are currently settled by cash payments - or not pursued because the victim cannot afford to pay police and court officials.

It is calling on the authorities to make sure that those who commit rape or sexual violence are punished through the judicial process.

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Full steam ahead for new rail link in south-east Asia

By Elaine Moore in Phnom Penh

Plans for a long discussed rail network to link China to six south-east Asian countries are advancing as critical gaps are filled in Cambodia.

An antiquated line to Vietnam built by the French a century ago is at present China's only rail link to the region, but officials began plotting the new network in 1995 to extend the French connection through various national lines all the way to Singapore, the southern tip of mainland south-east Asia.

The network is expected to strengthen economic ties by reducing transport costs and making travel more convenient. A new trade agreement came into effect in January slashing tariffs on most goods exported between China and members of the Association of South East Asian Nations.

The Asian Development Bank recently agreed to extend a second $42m loan for the $141m reconstruction of Cambodia's rail network. Australia and Malaysia have also advanced funding.

Cambodia's rail network collapsed over decades of war, neglect and vandalism. Phnom Penh, the capital, lacks a functioning train station. In the north-west, locals ride along the tracks on bamboo platforms balanced on wheels.

More than 650km of track is to be renovated, including a 48km section running west to Thailand that will then connect Cambodia onward to Malaysia and Singapore. The first segment of renovated track, between Phnom Penh and Touk Meas on the coast near Vietnam, is to open to freight trains late this year.

The other segments are to be finished by 2013.

The national network will be operated by Toll Holdings, an Australian company, and Royal Group, a local company.

Cambodia's roads often become waterlogged and impassable during the rainy season, so Senaka Fernando, the chairman of the British Business Association of Cambodia, welcomed the railway project's potential to improve transport.

The next project will be to fill the gap between the Cambodia-Singapore and Vietnam-China lines.

A feasibility study is under way. Preliminary estimates put the cost at $600m-$700m.

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