The story of Cambodia is a story of landmines. This article pays respect to how they have impacted the country’s past, present and will continue to impact its future. The following will illustrate the current issues concerning landmines by way of exploring recent events and bringing to light the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC). That being said, the saying, it’s raining cats and dogs, goes to a whole in new level in Cambodia, there it’s raining landmines!
This year Cambodia was been marked with heavy flooding in the northwest part of the country. As a result, many unearthed long-buried land mines and other unexploded remnants of war, have floated up or were pushed afar many kilometers before coming to rest at unexpected places, typically however, by the roots of trees or stuck on riverbanks, yet some even near villages. Last month a family had quite a surprise when an anti-tank mine had washed up near their farm. This is not uncommon.
The flooding has led to the evacuation of at least 50,000 households as of 20 October, according to the country’s National Committee for Disaster Management. The executive director of Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC), Heng Ratana, said it is still not clear how many mines or unexploded ordnance (UXO) have been dislodged in the country. It is also unknown how far the mines can float.
Cambodia’s legacy of decades of war has taken a severe toll on the population; it has some 40,000 amputees, which is the highest ratio per capita in the world. According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), as of August, CMAC and international demining NGOs have cleared almost one million anti-personnel landmines, 23,000 anti-tank mines and about 2.4 million explosive remnants of war from 1,013sqkm of land since the demining efforts started in 1992. Most of these mines are located in the North-Western part of the country along the border of Vietnam. Now while, much of that land has been resettled and cultivated, still, hundreds of thousands of mines and UXOs are estimated to remain in the ground.
The story of Cambodia is a story of landmines.
A lot of Cambodia’s rural villages are still land mined. Over half of the population lives in rural areas and millions of people must farm to live, and this means that they must expose themselves on a regular basis to its threats.
It is also reported that civilians use mines. For example; for fishing, to protect property and settle disputes; poachers are also reportedly using mines to hunt tigers, which are prized for use in medicines; and in one incident, in 1998, police surrounded a forest with mines in order to capture a murder suspect who had hidden there. He emerged from the forest and stepped on a mine.
It is also important to note that Cambodia is still quite stricken with poverty. Extreme poverty with a risk of landmines and a perception of abandonment from the government could lead to extremism. In other words, the rain brings landmines every season, the government does not have the funds to stop this, quickly and thoroughly, villagers die as a result, the villager or village gets fed up and begins to take extreme terrorist actions in revenge or belief it will bring a change. This link between landmines and poverty, could lead to extremism, therefore this situation in Cambodia can create a stark relevance for demining for national and international security.
However, there is an umbrella worthy of acclaim in this storm. The situation has drastically changed and while the common misconception with Cambodia is that not enough is being done to clear the country of landmines, in reality a lot is being done.
In the past decade, thanks to extensive demining efforts, the Cambodia government has drastically reduced the causality rate related to landmines, from several thousand per year to less than 100. The Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA) deserve much of this credit. The CMAA is the main regulator, monitor and coordinator of landmine identification, clearance, safety and education in Cambodia.
And regardless of its budget restraints and its continual annual unmet funds, it has still managed to do some great things.
It has also developed a National Mine Action Strategy (2010-2019), a Commune Investment Plan and established various partnerships with international bodies. Most importantly it has established countless educational incentives and programs. It works closely with the mass media and has established billboards, leaflets, flyers, books, etc. across the nation. It has also established a Mine Awareness Day, and in addition to its group meetings, workshops and field monitoring visit it also assists and supports victims of landmines and other explosives.
Now while the landmine situation in Cambodia isn’t over, it still goes to show that if one has the right umbrella (CMAC) even landmine rainy weather can keep you safe and dry.