Cambodia had been a war-torn country since the 1950s until the wars finally ended in the 1990s. From the Independence and Vietnam wars to the Khmer Rouge campaigns, the country is scarred by battle. One of the lasting effects of the conflicts is the presence of undetonated ordnances scattered all over the country. Cambodia is plagued by landmines, cluster bombs, and other types of explosives. These ticking time bombs have caused around 65,000 casualties since 1979, with almost 20,000 of those being fatal. A majority of those casualties are boys and young men. This count only goes to 2011. The Cambodian Mine Action Centre says there could be four to six million mines remaining in the country. Cambodia is a beautiful place with a deadly problem.
It all began here.
Cambodia’s population is 15 million people. Besides tourism, the country’s other main source of income is agriculture. With the presence of unexploded bombs, farming can be a deadly occupation. The inability to produce enough food to sell and eat greatly hinders economic growth. Adults can’t work their farms if they are injured severely. The average income for these families is $880 a year. If they can’t work because of injury, then they risk losing their farms and not having enough food to eat.
Landmines are one the biggest threats to Cambodia’s people. They were put down by the warring factions during the 1970s, but never recovered after the war. They were left to be stumbled upon by farmers and children. Some people give up farming altogether for fear of the landmines. They can destroy a family’s sole source of income and lower the well-being of entire communities. Victims often have to travel hours to get to a hospital. Public health suffers and education also become greatly affected.
So, what is being done to help with the problem?
One organization, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has cleared 1.58 million m² of land of undetonated ordnance. They have removed thousands of landmines and unexploded ordnances, providing also safety classes on how to locate the threat and what to do if you find a landmine or a bomb. The Cambodian Mine Action Centre coordinates efforts to find these ordnances and neutralize them before they harm people. They also oversee the four active demining groups in the country. CMAC’s efforts cleared 35,000 explosives only from January to March 2014. It has made great strides in solving the landmine and ordnance problem. However, experts say it could take up to twenty years to fully clear the country of this threat. Despite this, Cambodia is still dedicated to making the land safe for its citizens.