Phnom Penh - Mine action in Cambodia has come of age. The painstaking efforts that began about two decades ago have freed more than 700 square kilometres of land from landmines and explosive remnants of war. In 2011, the number of landmine casualties has never been lower. The casualty number stood at 211, a dramatic decrease compared to peak number of 4,320 in 1996.
Last year, some 3,329 rural Cambodian families consisting of more than 15,000 people received the cleared land to build houses on and to use for agricultural purposes. Another 41,951 households that made up of 205,370 people also benefited indirectly from the cleared land which has been used to build roads, pagodas and schools for children to get education.
The United Nations Development Programme has been working closely with the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA) and other development partners to tackle the remaining challenges. This long-standing partnership has resulted in a wide range of achievements. They include:
· a strengthened leadership and capacity of the CMAA to manage the sector
· the clearance of 50 square kilometers of contaminated land
· the development of a 10-year Mine Action Strategy of the CMAA
· the hosting of the 11th Meeting of States Parties to the ban landmine convention in 2011
Unexploded ordnance on display at a mine field in Banteay Meanchey province in northwestern Cambodia. (UNDP/Chansok Lay)
Despite the achievements, threats posed landmines and explosive remnants of war continue to persist in Cambodia. In affected areas, farmers can be found working on land that may be still littered with these deadly weapons. Children walk to school and may not know what lies in the ground in their path. It is estimated that some 650 square kilometres of land are still contaminated by landmines.Their presence is thwarting development progress to reduce poverty especially among the rural population.
“Women, girls, boys and men in Cambodia … and other mine-affected countries have paid a high price for the use of anti-personnel mines,” H.E. Prak Sokhonn, vice-chairman of the CMAA, said in a statement commemorating the International mine awareness day on 4 April.
“We must redouble our efforts to guarantee the rights of survivors and to continue to strive for a mine-free world,” he added.
In marking the day, he rolled up his pant leg to join the “Lend Your Leg” campaign in showing solidarity with landmines survivors. He also launched a campaign calling on Cambodian businesses to produce t-shirts with an educational message for distribution to Cambodians living in communities still affected by mines and other explosive remnants of war. He said providing free t-shirts bearing landmine education messages is one of the best forms of advocacy to prevent more casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war.