The gross national product (GNP) per capita in Cambodia is US $ 1,266 per year. This figure has been arrived at by a new system of measuring, used by international organizations like the World Bank.

Using the old method, the GNP of a country was initially calculated in the national currency and the resulting figure converted into US Dollars at exchange rates prevailing among banks.

But who in the world wants Cambodian Riel?

The new system of measuring works differently. Percapita GNP is not expressed in currency, but in buying potential.

This means: the accumulated percapita GNP in Cambodia equals a buying potential sufficient for a certain amount of rice, meat, washing powder, etc. The US dollar figure expresses what the same basket of goods would cost in the US, or in worldwide average.

While average percapita GNP in Cambodia is US $ 1,266, it is US $ 5,665 in Thailand; in Vietnam it is lower than in Cambodia, US $ 1,263. In Afghanistan it is even lower at US $ 760, and in Burma it's a meagre US $ 676 per year barely more than half of the Cambodian figure.

This does not necessarily mean that the average Cambodian is economically better off than the average Vietnamese. For in Cambodia, a substantial part of percapita GNP is still spent for war material. Today's Cambodians also start business at a lower level of percapita property, and furthermore, a substantial part of accumulated GNP is destroyed again and again by actions of war. The distribution of income may also be less equal in Cambodia than in Vietnam.

Fact is, the average Cambodian seems to be worse off than the average Vietnamese. A relevant point of reference here average life expectancy and medical provision rather than percapita GNP.

Percapita GNP, however, is a reference point for the natural resources of a country. Cambodia need not be a poor country, as shown by percapita GNP created under strenuous conditions. Cambodia owns large forests of the most precious woods and the most productive gem mines of the world (except diamonds). Much of the country is a fertile plain nurtured by one of the most powerful rivers of Asia, the Mekong.

In fact, Cambodia could be a rich country. Its preconditions are several times better than those of Ethiopia, Turkey, Peru, Egypt, Afghanistan or Iraq. Though, in the absence of sufficient political stability, the economic growth potential cannot be realized.

Therefore, percapita GNP in Cambodia, based on buying potential, amounts to only US $ 1,266 per annum, while in Thailand it is US $ 5,665, in the Philippines US $ 2,440 and in China US $ 2,413. In comparison: percapita GNP, based on buying potential, is US $ 20,165 in Germany, and $ 22,595 in the US.

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