Hunger and Governance: The Food Supply in Cambodia, 1979–1980 and Beyond

  • Jenny Leigh SmithEmail author
Part of the Advances in Global Change Research book series (AGLO, volume 64)


In the 4 years the Khmer Rouge was in power, after seizing control of Phnom Penh, an estimated 1.7 million people were killed by state terror, starvation or disease. In 1979, Democratic Kampuchea was overthrown by its neighboring communist rival, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, and Heng Samrin was appointed the leader of the new People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK). Access to food was the first and most pressing concern for the regime’s first 13 months in power. While the Killing Fields and other sites of mass murder have become notorious symbols of the Khmer Rouge, nearly half of all deaths between 1975 and 1979 were from starvation or opportunistic diseases related to acute malnourishment. In Democratic Kampuchea hunger and malnutrition were intentional, manufactured crises created by the government in order to assure compliance from civilians. Choices made by the government that succeeded these 4 years of horror also deeply affected efforts to recovery from famine. They affected agricultural production, and frustrated or delayed a return to normalcy for an estimated one million Cambodians who were internally displaced or who became international refugees between 1979 and 1985. The history of Cambodia’s experience with food scarcity, famine prevention, and distributing and maintaining humanitarian supplies to civilians help indicate the future directions the country would follow in its style of governance and management toward a broad range of natural and human resources.


Hunger Malnutrition Humanitarian aid Oxfam refugees Khmer Rouge Capability History of development 


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hong Kong University of Science and TechnologyHong KongHong Kong

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