Cambodia’s rapid urbanization has made waste management one of the most challenging issues for the nation. As solid waste accumulates along Cambodia’s streets and rivers, many municipalities simply do not have the technical capacity nor the resources to address illegal dumping or provide public services. While the government has contracted with the private sector to fill these gaps, oversight of collections and responsiveness to civil needs have been largely neglected. Unfortunately, the waste management crisis is compounded by Cambodia’s political turmoil: independent newspapers have been shut down, NGOs have been dismissed, and the main political opposition party has been eliminated. This limits the ability of citizens to advocate for change.
In this difficult political space, the Cambodia Solid Waste Accountability Platform (SWAP) is testing two ways the public can voice its needs and report problems: through a public-facing mobile Waste Tracker app and community meetings. The program is being piloted in three urban centers in Cambodia (Siem Reap, Stueng Saen, and Kampong Cham), with the hope of finding a way to improve solid waste service provision, increase accountability, and create an inexpensive and scalable framework for other municipalities.
SWAP is a randomized control trial (RCT). One group received access to the Waste Tracker app, one group received access to the app plus community meetings, and the last group served as the control.
The findings suggest that despite these new opportunities to provide feedback, there continues to be a disconnect between the government, their service providers, and citizens. While citizen inputs were posted on the platform, there was a lack of response from administrators. This failure to respond created a backlash effect, intensifying the disillusionment of citizens who feel their voices are not being heard even though there are platforms meant to streamline communications.
Researchers also found a disconnect in municipal leaders’ perceptions of citizens. In the first round of surveys, for example, contrary to company and municipal leaders’ beliefs, residents were willing to pay for better services, including paying for guaranteed on-time collection or cleaning the entire neighborhood. At the same time, administrators continue to believe the barrier to expanding services is citizens’ unwillingness to change their behaviors or to pay.
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