Work of giants in Cambodia

When a country emerges from decades of conflict, it takes a gigantic effort to rebuild it. In Cambodia, a book from the International Labour Organization details the reconstruction of an economy and the rebuilding of a devastated infrastructure.

Date issued: 07 May 2002 | Size/duration: 00:02:46

Legend has it that long ago, giants built the temples that fill the landscape of Cambodia. These days, that task is in the hands of Iv Yarany and the hundreds of workers she directs restoring monuments like Angkor Wat. Once the symbol of mighty Khmer kings, ten years ago it lay on the brink of ruin, forgotten amidst the overgrown vegetation and debris of war. They have been restored as they were constructed, without the use of machines, testimony to the labour-based technology that served the Khmer for centuries.

Iv Yarany, ILO Project Manager

I see my work not only in technical terms. Angkor Wat is the very essence of the history of my country. As a descendant of the Khmer, I feel proud of contributing to its reconstruction.

Shortly after a peace accord ended decades of conflict in Cambodia, the International Labour Organization moved in to set the country on the road to recovery. But it was a road literally paved with land mines and other obstacles, the biggest of which was: jobs. Farming was not enough to ease the severe poverty so the ILO designed a labour-based recovery that put the thousands of returned refugees and ex-soldiers back to work rebuilding the country’s devastated infrastructure. That massive effort is documented in a new book from the ILO: “The Work of Giants”. Brian Wenk witnessed the remarkable recovery firsthand.

Brian Wenk, Author of “The Work of Giants”

When a country emerges from decades of very violent conflict, which cost its experts, it cost its doctors, engineers, teachers. Took away many of the men who were heads of families, or left them maimed, disfigured, it takes a gigantic effort to get together, roll up your sleeves and rebuild the country.

Like the ebb and flow of torrential waters that regularly flood the region, creating sustainable employment required careful management. As Cambodia’s history revolved around water and its management, so to did its recovery. A restored irrigation system meant more than 540 kilometers of roads, 80 bridges and 21 watergates could be rebuilt, providing over 3 million workdays of paid employment.

David Salter, ILO Chief Technical Advisor, Cambodia

The management of water is crucial and is very much a part of Cambodian history, how to manage the water resource properly. That even affects all aspects of infrastructure including road construction has to be especially constructed for the wet season, there has to be a lot more allowance for flood conditions.

The work of giants rescued by no less a gigantic effort by the work of people.