CAMBODIA: Rise in mine casualties delays clearance
PAILIN, 21 October 2010 (IRIN) - Van Theang, 41, a former soldier in Cambodia's western Pailin Province, remembers what happened in 1991: "I was walking along and hit a trip-wire. I had been told to watch out for mines but I wasn't expecting any in that particular area. This just happened a lot in those years."
Under similar circumstances, while patrolling in Oddar Meanchey Province, along the 800km Thai border north of Pailin, soldier Sim Pheat stepped on a landmine that also destroyed his leg. But it happened just last month - a reminder that these remnants of war still exact a heavy toll.
A spike in landmine casualties in May - at 50, the highest monthly count since August 2007 - underlined what government and UN officials say is the reality that Cambodia will need longer to fulfil its pledged de-mining commitment.
"Cambodia still has a big challenge in the next 10 to 15 years," Oum Phumro, secretary-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC), the government body in charge of mine clearance, told IRIN.
Some 40,000 Cambodians have been maimed by landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXOs) since 1979. Landmine casualties have fallen dramatically, from 1,691 in 1993 to 244 last year, according to the government.
However, the rise in cases in May means 2010 is likely to be costlier than last year. From January to August, there were 207 casualties from landmines and UXOs, against 186 for the same period last year, according to Lim Chhiv, project manager of the Cambodian Mine/Explosive Remnants of War Victim Information System.
Millions cleared, millions remaining
From 1992 to 2009, some 800,000 anti-personnel mines, 19,000 anti-tank mines and 1.7 million UXOs were cleared, according to the Cambodian Mine Action Authority.
Melissa Sabatier, the UN Development Programme's mine action project manager in Cambodia, said the country's progress had been impressive.
"Previously, Cambodia had one of the highest levels of [UXO] contamination in the world, but now it has a prospering tourism sector and receives delegations from dozens of other countries affected by [UXOs] to learn from its experiences," she said.
However, as millions of explosive devices still litter the Southeast Asian nation, total clearance will take longer than expected.
Last December, Cambodia's agreement to comply with the Ottawa Treaty, which bans the use of all landmines, was extended to 2019. In their request for this extension, Cambodian authorities said some 650 sqkm would require clearance over a period of 12-13 years.
"If we want to reach the goal in the next 10 years, we need more resources and funding," Phumro said. "We have a number of committed donors but the funding is starting to dry up," he said.
The shortfall, added Sabatier, is a "general trend across all sectors - and across the globe" following the worldwide economic downturn in 2008 and 2009.
According to a 2009 report by the UN, Portfolio of Mine Action Projects, there was a worldwide shortfall of nearly US$437 million for mine-clearance projects.