Explosive remnants of war
Years of war and conflict in Cambodia have left parts of the countryside very dangerous to live in. Landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) hidden just beneath the ground, can explode when they are stepped on or disturbed, causing death or injuries. With one false step, children playing or walking to school and farmers collecting water or ploughing their fields can have their lives changed forever. There are often no maps to locate the unexploded ordnance, so they remain in the ground until they are found and destroyed. It is a difficult and slow process to ensure that people can be totally confident the land is safe.
An integrated approach is needed to address the complex problems caused by landmines and UXO. Land must be made safe by clearing away the hazards; people must learn about the dangers of these weapons; those injured must be provided with fast and effective medical assistance; and survivors need support to rebuild their lives physically, economically and emotionally.
Making the land safe to use is a long, slow and expensive process. It takes about $US3 to make a landmine, and about $US1,000 to clear one. De-miners undergo training and wear protective clothing to limit the consequences of an explosion. They work in small teams, taking frequent breaks. They work slowly and carefully on one section of land at a time, clearing the vegetation and sweeping the area with metal detectors. Sometimes they use dogs to smell for explosives in plastic mines, which cannot be found with a metal detector.
Once a mine or other dangerous object is found, it is carefully uncovered and a long fuse is attached so it can be blown up safely. Areas yet to be cleared are marked with signs to warn people of the danger.
Everyday life means families have to use their fields to grow their food and collect firewood and water and to travel to school and market. They may have to use land which still has UXO hidden in the ground so they need to learn about the dangers and what to do if UXO are discovered. Education programs using plays, songs, puppets and pictures help them remember the safety messages. Some programs also teach basic first aid so that victims can be helped as soon as possible.
People who have survived landmine or UXO explosions take months to recover from their injuries. They may be fitted with an artificial or prosthetic leg or arm. Then they must learn new skills to manage life and make a living.
Young children will require replacement prostheses every four to six months. They miss school and their family might struggle to pay for medical care. Landmine survivors typically have difficulty earning a living and contributing to their families and communities.
There is increasing awareness of the rights of people with disabilities. The Cambodian national volleyball competition provides opportunities for young people to rebuild their lives as they train, make new friends and gain in self-confidence.
Once land is cleared a certificate of ownership is provided to avoid disputes. Women, who traditionally were not recognised as landowners, now head many households, and are given priority in the land distribution process.
Villagers are taught improved farming methods to increase yields, so they can grow food not only for themselves but also for sale. Construction of wells and pumps improves access to safe water and reduces the need to cross uncleared areas to collect water in areas contaminated with landmines and UXO. Training and microcredit are available so people can start up small businesses.
Landmines and UXO continue to cause casualties in Cambodia. The majority of victims live in rural areas where the specialised treatment they need is not available. Not only might it take days to reach hospital, but also ongoing medical care is likely to be very expensive. The many organisations working together to address the issues of landmine- and UXO-contaminated land have made great progress but there is still an enormous challenge to clear all remaining contaminated land and ensure all survivors receive the assistance they need.
In 1997 an international campaign led to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (known as the Ottawa Convention or Mine Ban Treaty). Another campaign led to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which came into force on 1 August 2010. These treaties prohibit the use of mines and cluster munitions, their production and trade and provide for clearance and survivor assistance. On 8 December 2005, the United Nations General Assembly declared that 4 April of each year shall be officially proclaimed and observed as the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.
AusAID – Mine action www.ausaid.gov.au/keyaid/mineaction.cfm
Cambodian Mine Action Centre www.cmac.gov.kh/index.php
International Campaign to Ban Landmines www.icbl.org