During the Management of Residual Explosive Remnants of War (MORE) Symposium in Siem Reap this week, attendees were invited to a demonstration at a live minefield only an hour north of the town.
“The good thing about this country is that you don’t have to go far to see a minefield. They’re very close to the city,” an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician joked as he entered the field. “Be careful where you walk.”
The focus of the symposium, which ran from Monday until Wednesday, was strategies to deal with “residual contamination” – the leftover explosive ordnance that remains after a first comprehensive clean-up phase is completed.
However, the main topic of conversation on the sidelines was what’s likely to happen when Cambodia transitions into this residual contamination mopping-up stage – namely a swift drop in donor funding.
“It is only a matter of time before the big dollars start dropping,” said Jan Erik Stoa, program manager for the Norwegian People’s Aid Humanitarian Disarmament Programme in Cambodia.
In the 2014 financial year, the US State Department contributed $6.3 million to “humanitarian mine action” in Cambodia, however, the US has only guaranteed funding through 2015.
Donor funding for mine action is generally linked to obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty, an international treaty signed by Cambodia in 1999. Article 5 of the treaty obligates signatories to identify and destroy all anti-personnel landmines within 10 years of the convention entering into force. After failing to meet their initial deadline in 2009, Cambodia was granted a 10-year extension, which is due to expire at the end of 2019.
Many at the conference, including Stoa, estimated demining funding would start tapering off in the next three or four years.
Prum Sophakmonkol, secretary-general of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA), doubted Cambodia’s ability to continue demining efforts at the same level if that should happen.
“Money to support mine action from the Cambodian government needs to be balanced with funding for other priorities,” he said.
“We don’t think Cambodia can shoulder this without other countries’ support.”
Despite indications that the 2019 treaty deadline would not be met and could be extended by a further five years, Cambodia had to accept that it was natural for funding to decrease over time, said Kerry Brinkert, director of the Mine Ban Treaty Implementation Support Unit.
“The number one reason why donors are engaged in anything anywhere is broader foreign policy considerations,” said Brinkert.
With countries like Colombia recently allowing near-complete access for humanitarian landmine clearance, and hotspots like Syria and Myanmar tipped to open in coming years, many donors are starting to shift their priorities to other areas of the world.
Donor fatigue could also be expected, with many funding Cambodian mine clearance since 1992 – nearly 25 years.
Many donors and international NGOs use Article 5 clearance as a baseline for funding mine action: if land has been released after stringent survey and clearance, and if civilians can live in safety, and development is not constrained, many donors believe further clearance should become the responsibility of the host nation.
“When you have surveyed and cleared all known hazards, that’s the point where you should stop and say that anything that comes up now is residual,” Stoa said.
EOD teams in Cambodia are already dealing with many cases of residual contamination and it is likely residual ordnance will continue to affect the country for decades; however, the CMAA does not currently have a policy on managing this residual threat.
Sophakmonkol said he would report the results of the MORE Symposium back to the appropriate ministers and suggest a special meeting between mine operators, led by the CMAA, to investigate the proper way to plan for residual “explosive remnants of war” management and help develop a policy to address this long-term threat.
“We found the symposium here is very informative, learning from different countries with different contexts and different contamination, but we have the same goal: to try to get rid of this problem in the long term,” he said.
A LONG-TERM LEGACY OF WAR
“Residual contamination” is generally defined as any mines or explosive ordnance that fall outside areas where known hazards exist and where human activity is severely impacted.
It’s a problem in parts of Europe, a long-term legacy of the first and second world wars.
Explosive items accidentally left behind during initial clearance are re-discovered, left outside areas that were prioritised to be cleared for human use, or buried too deeply to initially be a concern but which become a risk as construction and development occurs are all considered “residual contamination”.
Countries across Europe remain littered with explosive remnants of weapons that failed to detonate, and are still forced to manage the associated risk. A recent example was in the German city of Cologne, where a one-tonne bomb dropped during World War II was found at the end of May, forcing 20,000 people to leave their homes and workplaces in the largest post-war evacuation in the city.