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A Cambodian woman carrying a baby walks by landmine awareness sign in Pailin province.
A Cambodian woman carrying a baby walks by landmine awareness sign in Pailin province. AFP

Mine action in Cambodia: beyond clearing landmines

Over the past 20 years, Cambodia has made significant strides in cleaning up landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW). Led by the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA), roughly 1,125 square kilometres of land has been “released” between 2003 and 2015. Land is released when reasonable efforts are made to identify, define and remove land mines.

Contributing to the overall gains is almost 183 square kilometres of land released under the UNDP supported CMAA initiative Clearing for Results Programme, (exceeding the initial target of 72 square kilometres), since its inception in 2006.

UNDP and our partners’ approach has been strategic, primarily building the capacity of the CMAA to monitor, regulate and coordinate the mine action sector in Cambodia.

Our strategy supports the priorities contained in the National Strategic Development Plan in reducing the impact of mines and ERWs. We work within the government’s frameworks and strategies, particularly guided by the National Mine Action Strategy.

With our support and through partners and donors such as Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation, more than 405,000 individuals enjoy greater community security.

People live without fear and live productively through backyard farming, or through new roads, schools, health centres and irrigation systems built in what were once contaminated land.

Such gains can be witnessed at the grassroots, where a cassava farmer in Pailin has earned almost triple his annual profit from planting on safe grounds. An initial post-clearance impact survey showed that mine clearance has allowed migrant households to upgrade their livelihoods.

Additional income allowed them to purchase assets and introduce new crops. More-over, this has opened up opportunities for women wherein joint decisions to purchase assets are made by both spouses.

In the majority of cases surveyed, the soft and hard land titles are made out in the name of both spouses. Where additional labour is required to cultivate land, women are also most likely to be hired, providing them additional income.

Most households reported hiring more labour, mostly women. In extensive focus group discussions, settlers said that they felt are safer, happier and “have better living” than five years ago.

While the overall number of casualties from mines and ERWs have been declining over the years, there are still an unacceptable number of casualties – 28,306 recorded from 1992 to 2015.

Further, the number of casualties increased in 2014 compared with the previous year, primarily due to the expansion of agricultural lands and the use of tractors.

In the most heavily contaminated provinces – such as Battambang, Pailin and Banteay Mancheay – a total of 470 square kilometres of land remain to be cleared and released.

Financing the mine action sector in Cambodia also remains a challenge as Overseas Development Assistance shifts from grants to loans.

The total financial resources required to achieve completion by 2025 under the Maputo Declaration of 1,545 square kilometres of the remaining estimate of 1,638 square kilometres of contaminated land is $338.5 million.

Beyond the statistics and figures, it is important to employ a holistic approach in mine action to see the end goal beyond the mere removal of landmines and ERWs.

We need to see that people’s lives indeed improve through greater agricultural productivity and by living safer lives. We need to aim for sustainability in human development.

Today is a big step forward as we continue our partnership with CMAA and DFAT through the third phase of the Clearing for Results project.

This $11 million initiative, of which $7 million is contributed by DFAT, is being signed today. It will run for the next three years and stands to benefit nearly 500,000 Cambodians who can improve their livelihoods and be active participants in the local economy.

With the lessons learned from the first two phases, we are putting greater focus on linking mine action with human development and inclusive growth in the geographical areas with a multi-dimensional poverty and an ID poor, while keeping land release as the central project goal.

In the third phase, clearance and post-clearance policies are key to address some of the remaining challenges. Policies will help strengthen data-gathering on land use after it has been released, aiming for a more detailed information collection that will be pertinent in land use planning.

Together with the government and our partners, we continue to support operations to release at least 27 square kilometres of the total mine and ERW contaminated areas located in the most affected and poorest provinces.

Further, we will support CMAA in developing an updated National Mine Action Strategy for 2017-2025 that will align Cambodia to the Maputo +15 declaration.

A mine action monitoring system that links human development and mine action will also be developed. Given the human development dividends from mine action, we will explore how other line ministries might contribute to finance the mine action sector.

At the end of the day, to maximise the human development benefits from mine action, there is both an imperative and an opportunity to go beyond business as usual.

Enrico Gaveglia is the country director a.i. of the United Nations Development Programme in Cambodia.

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