ROUGHLY three-quarters of urban women in households making less than US$300 per month reported that their household incomes had declined in the last year, leaving their families unable to afford healthy food, according to a survey released this week by Indochina Research.
The survey questioned 200 women aged 25 and older in Phnom Penh. Respondents were stopped outside of four markets and asked about their employment, incomes and expenditures over the last year.
Seventy-four percent of respondents said they had seen their household incomes decline from June 2008 to June 2009.
The survey also found that small businesses in Phnom Penh had been hit hard by the economic crisis. Nearly 80 percent of respondents who had family members with a small business - including informal enterprises such as motorbike repair shops, hair salons and food stalls - said their incomes had decreased.
Kent Helmers, the social research director at Indochina Research, said via email: "While the plight of poorer urban and rural workers laid off from garment factories has been highlighted in the media ... we also need to highlight the struggle under way for poorer urban families depending on small business."
Because of their reduced earnings, many poor urban families are now unable to afford nutritious meals, the survey said.
Eighty-five percent of respondents said chicken - an important source of protein - had become less affordable over the last year, while 73 percent of women said they could not afford enough chicken for their families.
In addition, 17 percent of women said they were unable even to purchase enough rice, according to the survey.
"The concern is that these poorer families may not be able to buy sufficient protein in these hard times," Helmers said.
The 2008 National Anthropometric Nutrition Survey showed an increase in acute malnutrition in children, evidence of the unhealthy coping measures of families run by underemployed women, UN Resident Coordinator Douglas Broderick said via email Tuesday.
"Informal coping measures all have implications for long-term human development- stalling health, nutrition and literacy," Broderick said.
"Deterioration in these areas not only sets back the country today, but also long into the future."
The decline in urban incomes does not just affect urban areas, Broderick said. According to the United Nations, about 1.5 million rural Cambodians depend on remittances from urban migrants, mostly women, as their major source of income.
In contrast to Cambodia, Indochina Research's survey showed that the urban poor in Laos had benefited from continued economic growth despite the economic crisis, with only 25 percent of women saying their household income had decreased, whereas 43 percent said it had increased.
Indochina Research concluded that to buffer the impacts of the global economic crisis, improvements to the small business environment should be made to help the urban poor.