About 90 per cent of Cambodia’s poorest people live in rural areas and about 70 per cent of the Kingdom’s population rely on agriculture for their livelihood, so safe access to land without fear of injury and death from the explosive remnants of war is essential.
Yet many farmers desperate for land gamble with their own lives, choosing to cultivate land that may contain land mines and other types of unexploded ordnance (UXO).
Through concerted mine action and with the assistance of development partners, Cambodia has made tremendous progress in clearing land of UXO and reducing the number of casualties.
About 700 square kilometres of land have already been cleared and handed over to communities for agricultural use and for building critical infrastructure such as irri-gation, roads, schools and housing.
Nationally, the casualty rate from UXO continues to fall, from the 4,300 recorded in 1996 to 185 recorded last year.
Through efforts to tackle its land-mine problems, Cambodia has developed sought-after expertise and capacity. It now sends deminers to help other mine-affected nations in the context of United Nations peacekeeping missions.
Cambodia is also sharing its experiences on mine action through exchange visits.
In the past two years, Cambodia has sent officials to, or received officials from, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Laos and Myanmar.
Last year, His Excellency Prak Sokhonn, Minister attached to the Prime Minister of Cambodia and vice-president of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA), held the position of president of the Meeting of States Parties to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (the Ottawa Convention).
Australia is proud to be a long-term supporter of mine action in Cambodia.
Since 1994, it has contributed more than A$97 million to support Cambodia’s efforts to clear contam-inated land, educate people about the risks and assist the survivors.
Australia is currently supporting Cambodia’s mine-action efforts through the multi-donor Clearing for Results project.
Now in its second phase (2011-2015), this project is facilitated by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and managed and implemented by the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA).
It is also funded by Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK and the UNDP.
Since the first phase in 2006, the project has helped to clear more than 54 square kilometres of land.
Last year alone, clearance activ-ities funded by the project found and destroyed 4,593 anti-personnel mines, 28 anti-tank mines and 1,999 other items of UXO.
Clearing for Results is having a measurable impact in three of Cambodia’s most mine-affected provinces: Battambang, Banteay Meanchey and Pailin.
Collectively, the work of Clearing for Results and other clearance operators has helped to reduce casualties in these provinces by 45 per cent, from 100 in 2011 to 55 last year.
There are many other benefits of this project. It is helping CMAA to manage, regulate, co-ordinate and monitor the sector.
It is ensuring clearance resources are effectively allocated to national priorities, as defined by local planning processes, and is maximising the amount of land available for local development.
The project is also helping CMAA co-ordinate a Baseline Survey to establish precisely how much land remains contaminated and will require clearance in the future.
Clearing for Results supports key strategic frameworks including Cambodia’s National Mine Action Strategy (NMAS), the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, and Cambodia’s ninth Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for land mines and victim assistance.
Mine action is not just about banning, or clearing, land mines and other UXO. It is also about suppor-ting the people affected by them — in particular, people who have acquired a disability as a result
of an accident.
Despite efforts through international frameworks such as the Ottawa Convention, people with disability, including land-mine survivors, have poorer health and education outcomes, less economic participation and higher poverty rates than those without disability.
The Royal Government of Cambodia recently ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disab-ilities (CRPD).
Australia looks forward to continuing to support people with disability in Cambodia through our aid program, as the Royal Government of Cambodia works to implement its obligations under the convention.
On this, the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, Australia congratulates Cambodia on its efforts so far.
We also recognise the enormous challenge that remains to rid the nat-ion of its land-mine and UXO legacy.
The Royal Government of Cambodia has set itself an ambitious target to clear more than 645 square kilometres of land by 2019.
We hope that with the support of Australia and others, this aim will be achieved.
Penny Richards is Australia’s ambassador to Cambodia.