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Funding for mines falls short

091202_03
Deminers from the Cambodian Mine Action Centre search for and remove land mines in Battambang province.

THE mine action community faces a 74 percent budget shortfall for 2010, a year in which the government and its partners plan to spend 75 percent more on mine-related programmes, a UN report has found.

The “Portfolio of Mine Action Projects”, released Monday in New York, states that only $8 million of the $30.9 million required for 13 different projects has been secured, a figure some say underscores the downside of Cambodia’s reliance on a network of benefactors that has been battered by the economic crisis as well as donor fatigue.

“This has been an issue for so long in Cambodia that people tend to forget about it. People think, ‘We’ve been working on that for the past 15 or 20 years, so that problem should be solved by now’,” said Jeroen Stol, country director for Handicap International Belgium.

“Fundraising is difficult in all areas – not just mine action – because of the economic crisis. But mine action is even worse than the others.”

Plong Chhaya, a project officer for child protection at UNICEF, said Cambodia has been a victim of its own past success.

“The number of casualties has dropped sharply compared to previous years, and this is causing some trouble for the UN and other mine-action groups in looking for additional support,” he said.

Last year saw a total of 271 land-mine casualties, compared with an annual average of 2,700 between 1979 and 1999. Experts estimate that less than 700 square kilometres of land still needs to be cleared, although this figure has not been backed up by technical research.

UNICEF is one of 10 mine-action groups seeking funding for 2010. Of a projected budget of $621,000, only $300,000 in donor funding has been secured, according to the UN portfolio.

“The situation compared to previous years is a little bit different,” Plong Chhaya said. “It should have been confirmed since June or July. But we haven’t got that confirmation yet. Hopefully, they will confirm it. If not, we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.”

Chhiv Lim, project manager for the Cambodian Red Cross victim information system, said he was confident his programme would receive
funding, despite the fact that, according to the UN portfolio, none of the roughly $155,000 budget had been secured. He noted, though, that he will probably face a year-end shortfall of “between $20,000 and $30,000”.

“But maybe this will not affect our activities too much,” he said.

In 1999, Cambodia became a signatory to the Ottawa Treaty, committing itself to removing all antipersonnel mines by the end of this year. A Cambodian delegation is currently attending the Summit on a Mine-Free World in Cartagena, Colom-bia, where it is expected to formally present a request for a 10-year extension of that deadline on Monday, along with a plan to focus on clearance efforts in the 21 most heavily mined districts.

A review committee is expected to approve the extension request today.

Several members of the mine action community said they believe the extended deadline and clearance plan will make donors more likely to fund
Cambodian projects.

But Plong Chhaya said he believed donors would be more responsive if the government were to take more of a leadership role in funding and administering mine-action projects.

Heng Ratana, director general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre, could not be reached Tuesday, and Sem Sokha, the secretary of state at the Social Affairs Ministry in charge of disability issues, declined to comment.

Stol said other problems that had recently led to more casualties – traffic accidents, for instance – would be more likely to capture donors’ interest in the immediate future.

Reduced donor funding could hurt the local mine-action community, as the UN portfolio asserts that Cambodia is likely to be dependent on external donors to fund mine-action projects for “10 to 20 years”.

The total amount of requested funding for mine-action projects for 2010 is 75 percent higher than the $17.7 million requested last year.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SAM RITH

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