Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Mine clearance in a pandemic



Mine clearance in a pandemic

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Cambodia remains one of the most mine affected in the world, with an estimated four to six million remnants posing a continued threat to its population. Supplied

Mine clearance in a pandemic

As governments and businesses rushed to close down or freeze activities to contain the Covid-19 pandemic and focused resources on frontline services, the essential work of demining has continued in Cambodia. The country remains one of the most mine affected in the world, with an estimated four to six million remnants posing a continued threat to its population.

Both Covid-19 management and mine clearance are primarily about saving lives. With early action from the Cambodian government and low levels of infection in the Southeast Asia region, Cambodia has so far escaped community transmission of Covid-19 and has a zero-mortality rate to date. The same is not true for death and injury from mines. There have been 39 casualties from mines and explosive remnants of war in Cambodia since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic in March this year. As we consider priority areas of work during the pandemic, we cannot afford to cut back on this essential lifesaving humanitarian work – for more than one reason.

Beyond its direct ability to save lives, mine clearance is critical to agricultural production in Cambodia. Agriculture is one of the few sectors doing well despite the pandemic. According to Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon, exports of milled rice have significantly increased this year, up 38 per cent in the first seven months of this year compared to the same period last year. This highlights the urgent need to decontaminate mine-affected fields and give them back to communities for productive use.

Creating livelihood opportunities is especially important with the influx of migrant workers returning to Cambodia from Thailand due to Covid-19. A survey undertaken of 320 migrant workers in mine-affected areas of the country revealed that over half have not yet found employment. Without any timeline in sight as to how long they will stay in their home country, there is a pressing need to ensure they have productive, mine-free land to work on.

Since the start of the pandemic, mine clearance operators in Cambodia have continued to operate at full capacity to deliver these results. They have implemented new measures to comply with health and hygiene guidelines set out by the Cambodian government and the World Health Organisation. Yet these changes to protocol have not come without challenges. Health and sanitary equipment need to be purchased, field training and meetings are difficult to hold while adhering to social distancing guidelines, and travel between minefields has become increasingly challenging.

Supporting mine clearance operators to make these required shifts and continue to deliver lifesaving work is critical to the efforts of the Clearing for Results project supported by the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority, UNDP Cambodia, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Korea International Cooperation Agency, and New Zealand. Operating since 2006, this is the first pandemic the project has worked under. While it presents new challenges, it also brings important opportunities for mine clearance work to save lives across the country and to build resilience for Cambodia’s steps beyond recovery.

Nick Beresford is UNDP Cambodia’s Resident Representative.

MOST VIEWED

  • Typhoon Noru brings flash floods – 16 dead

    An official warned that that the 16th typhoon of the season, Noru, had brought heavy rains to areas the Mekong River and flooded thousands of homes in the provinces bordering Thailand. As of September 27, the death toll from the flooding had risen to 16. National Committee

  • Siem Reap drain canal now ‘mangrove’ promenade

    A more than half a kilometre long stretch of canal in Siem Reap has been covered and turned into a promenade to attract visitors, said Ly Rasmey, secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, on September 16. The new pedestrianised

  • Angkor wildlife, aquarium park still to open October

    The Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium complex about 30km southeast of Siem Reap town with initial total investment of more than $70 million is reportedly still on track for an end-October opening. The park is located on a 100ha plot along National Road 6 in Kbon village, Khchas

  • Defence minister reaffirms Kingdom’s staunch support for One-China policy

    Minister of National Defence General Tea Banh has reaffirmed Cambodia’s unwavering support for the One-China policy. Tea Banh was speaking at the September 20 ceremonial handover of 117 vehicles and other military equipment donated by China’s defence ministry, held at Phnom Chumreay International Military Training

  • Deaths due to ‘lifestyle’ diseases rise in Kingdom

    The Ministry of Health has called on people to pay closer attention to their health to protect themselves from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which it said have caused high rates of deaths in the country. Ministry secretary of state York Sambath made the call at a

  • Textile industry minimum wage now $200

    The official minimum wage for workers in textile-related sectors including garment, footwear, and travel goods for 2023 was pegged at $198, with Prime Minister Hun Sen stepping in to add $2 to the total, making it $200 per month. The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training made the announcement