A report into the deliberate handling of live ordnance in Cambodia has recommended that the mine action community accepts that tampering will continue in poor areas, and should consider community-based efforts to minimize casualties.
The report, titled Tampering, was released last month. It suggested the police should play more of a role in the mine action sector, allowing them to boost their reputation in society while reducing the costs of de-mining.
The international community donates around $30 million each year to de-mining and mine education programs, equating to approximately $1 per square meter of land cleared.
TheTampering report by researcher Richard Moyes surveyed 12 villages in highly contaminated districts throughout 2004. It found that collecting scrap metal from bombs was the third biggest source of supplementary income, after chamkar farming and laboring.
According to the report, the combination of high prices for scrap metal and a lack of economic opportunity caused an increase in the number of ordnance-related accidents in Cambodia.
"Investing more and more in the process of eradicating ordnance may not be addressing the root causes, the deeper vulnerabilities of which this ordnance handling was only an indicator," the report stated.
The report was commissioned by Handicap International Belgium, Mines Advisory Group and Norwegian People's Aid. It received funding from the European Community Humanitarian Office, AusAID and Norwegian People's Aid.
Landmines and UXO caused 891 casualties in 2004, according to unofficial figures from the Cambodian Mine Action Authority. The official statistics are expected within days.
For the past three years, unexploded and abandoned ordnance have caused more deaths and injuries than landmines, according to data collected by the Cambodian Mine/UXO Victim Information System.
An estimated 21 million explosive items were dropped on Cambodia by the United States during the Vietnam War, leaving a clean-up job that will continue for decades.
"[We have to] stop saying to the communities we are going to de-mine their land - this is not true and not even honest," said Christian Provoost, coordinator of mine action and injury prevention for Handicap International Belgium.
Instead, international experts should focus on helping local communities develop their own strategies for reducing risks from mines and bombs, said Provoost.
He will suggest providing basic ordnance-handling training to one person in each of Cambodia's 5,000 UXO-affected villages as a way to complement response-based demining.
The Mine Action Forum will meet January 14 to discuss ways to address the problem of UXO tampering raised in the report.