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Observations on Recent Changes in Northwest Cambodiaís Mine/UXO Situation

Updated Wednesday, 02-Oct-2013 15:57:26 EDT

Based on recently acquired data from selected areas in Battambang province in northwestern Cambodia, the authors offer a preliminary report on what appear to be very significant shifts in the nature of the mine/unexploded ordnance situation. The new data is used to make comparisons between the situation in 2000 and the current situation. Next, they offer evidence of how locally based initiatives appear to have become the predominant driving force of mine action in the selected areas.


Photo courtesy of the authors

Late in 2004, the national government of Cambodia transferred responsibility for mine action decision-making authority to the provinces. Previously established provincial units were renamed Mine Action Planning Units with expanded mandates and membership. To support this transfer of authority, the governments of Canada and Australia implemented technical-assistance projects. A key objective of these projects has been to improve mine action data collection and management. By mid-2005, new data on the mine action situation was available, and it is this data that forms the basis for this report. We emphasise that the work of the MAPUs is continuing as this is written and more comprehensive data will be available soon. That will enable a comprehensive analysis to be made.

Changes in Suspected Mined Areas, 2000–2005

The observations in this article are based on data from three areas in Battambang province: the communes of Andaeuk Haeb and Kantueu Muoy and Kouk Choar village. In total, the three selected areas include 15 villages. All three communities are heavily mine/UXO-contaminated areas located in interior parts of the province. The National Level One Survey (NL1S)1 reported in 2000 that there had been a total of 178 mine-related injuries including 62 deaths since mines were first laid in these areas.

These locations were selected simply because they are the first areas for which new data has become available. The selection is not based on sampling techniques and therefore should not be used for extrapolation.


Figure 1: Clearance of suspected mined areas, 2000–2005.
Graphic courtesy of the Cambodia Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority, Cambodia National Level One Survey, 2002/MAPU Battambang, unpublished data, 2005

In 2000, the NL1S reported the 15 villages in these three communities had 38 suspected mined areas with an estimated area of over 1,200 hectares (5 square miles). As more information became available, some of these suspected mined areas were shown to be of varied size. One new area was also discovered. The net result was a reduction in the suspected contaminated area by 27 percent to just over 900 hectares (3 square miles). Current status of these 45 SMAs is shown in Figure 1.

Fifty-three percent of all SMAs in the three communities were completely cleared in the last five years. An additional 42 percent were partially cleared. Only two SMAs were not cleared at all in this period. Further examination of the clearance activity shows that partially cleared SMAs are mainly of larger size, and only critical areas within them have been cleared.


Figure 2: Responsibility for clearance, 2000–2005 (by number of SMAs).
Graphic courtesy of MAPU Battambang, unpublished data, 2005

Before the NL1S in 2000 there had been considerable clearance by the Cambodian Mine Action Centre and the Mines Advisory Group in these three communities. But since 2000, there has been very little official activity as the focus of attention has shifted to other areas of the province. Figure 2 shows that CMAC worked in only two SMAs and cleared 5 percent of the total cleared area; the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces worked in three SMAs and cleared 7 percent of the total area cleared; and MAG worked in only one SMA in a cooperative effort with RCAF. The total area cleared by all three organizations has been about 50 hectares (124 acres). What is most surprising is that fully 86 percent of the SMAs that have been cleared or partially cleared have been worked on by community-based individuals or groups (see Figure 2). This represents an estimated 91 percent of the area cleared of mines/UXO in the three communities in the last five years.


Figure 3: Mine/UXO areas cleared, 2000–2005.
Graphic courtesy of the Cambodia Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority, Cambodia National Level One Survey, 2002/MAPU Battambang, unpublished data, 2005

Even more surprising to those of us involved with providing assistance to Battambang MAPU is that, in total, 43 of the 45 SMAs in these three communities have either been completely cleared or partially cleared between 2000 and 2005. An estimated total of almost 550 hectares (2 square miles) has been cleared of mines/UXO in the same period (see Figure 3).

One result of these findings is the Battambang MAPU will try to compile a complete inventory of the mine history of all SMAs in the province. It is likely that by sometime in 2006, the Battambang MAPU and others in northwestern Cambodia will have such data available to them. Assistance with this effort is being provided from the "Task Assessment and Planning—Decision Support at MAPUs" project, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency and working in collaboration with the Australian governmentís Overseas Aid Program-funded project "Capacity Building for Mine Action Planning."

Informal Demining

The existence (and even prevalence) of community-based mine action initiatives in Cambodia should come as no surprise. As long ago as 1999, the Landmine Monitor reported on village demining in Cambodia. Ruth Bottomley of Handicap International in her article "Returning Life to Field and Forest: Mine Clearance by Villagers in Cambodia,"2 identified how village deminers work in Cambodia. This information was further expanded in her book Crossing the Divide: Landmines, Villagers and Organizations,3 published in 2003. Most recently, Handicap International has published the report Informal Village Demining in Cambodia: An Operational Study4 by Michael L. Fleisher.

Further, the NL1S also showed that, between 1998 and 2000, nine of the 15 villages in our selected area had resorted to community-based mine action to help solve their mine/UXO-related problems. CMAC and MAG were active in seven of these villages, but in each of these villages, the community itself also undertook complementary mine action work.

The assumption in the Cambodian mine action community seems to be that such community-based initiatives are a relatively minor contribution to the overall demining effort and at best are an adjunct to activities of the four major "official" Cambodian mine action organizations: CMAC, the Royal Cambodia Armed Forces, HALO Trust and MAG. Clearly the initial data available for the three communities reported in this paper challenges this assumption and suggests that, at least in these areas, the most significant mine action driving force is informal, community-based initiatives.


Figure 4: Mine-related casualties, 2000–2005 (Kantueu Muoy and Andaeuk Haeb communes).
Graphic courtesy of the Cambodia Red Cross, Cambodia Mine Victim Information System

Socio-economic Change

The intended result of mine action is to improve the life of affected communities. To assess whether or not such improvements have taken place, the NL1S created easily measurable socio-economic indicators. The NL1S reported the results for these indicators for 2000. The Battambang MAPU has recently obtained new data for some of these indicators. The indicators that we report here measure change in mine-related casualties and access to land and water resources.

Mine-related casualties. To measure the dangers associated with mines, data from the Cambodia Mine Victim Information System was used to compare the number of people killed and injured in the two years immediately preceding the NL1S in 2000 and the two years prior to 2005. Data for casualties related to mines for Kantueu Muoy and Andaeuk Haeb communes is used in this analysis.

A dramatic reduction in the number of human casualties was found (see Figure 4). In 1998 and 1999, there were six deaths and eight mine-related injuries in the two communes for a total of 14 casualties. Five years later, in 2003 and 2004, there were three deaths but only one mine-related injury in the two communes, for a total of four casualties.


Figure 5: Socio-economic impacts, 2000–2005 (restricted access to resources).
Graphic courtesy of the Cambodia Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority, Cambodia National Level One Survey, 2002/MAPU Battambang, unpublished data, 2005

Access to land and water resources. We selected three indicators that measure changes mines/UXO have on the livelihoods of rural residents in the three communities. These indicators are the numbers of families reporting some restriction on access to land for farming, access to water supplies and access to forests for the purpose of foraging or collecting firewood. Overall, as shown in Figure 5, the 15 villages reported 58 percent fewer families with restricted access to farmland. There are no families reporting access to water supply as a problem in 2005; in 2000, 834 families reported this problem. There was a decline of 60 percent in families reporting restricted access to forests. Almost 500 families still reported mines/UXO caused a problem with access to farmland in 2005 and almost 600 families still reported a forest access problem. It should be noted, however, that there has also been a significant increase in the number of people living in these areas over the last five years. For example in Andaeuk Haeb commune, the population increased by over 40 percent in two years (2002–2004) to just under 6,000 people.

These dramatic improvements in socio-economic conditions have occurred in a relatively short period. There are many possible reasons for these improvements, including not only the actual removal of mines, but better understanding of the dangers of mines and better knowledge of the location of suspected mined areas. It is the impression of the Cambodian authors of this paper that the most significant contribution to these dramatic improvements in socio-economic conditions in the 15 villages has been made by community-based mine-clearance initiatives.

Informal Community-Based Mine Action Safety Issues

Battambang MAPU staff, during their field research, identified individuals and groups of individuals (village demining teams) that have delivered community-based mine action initiatives in the three communities. We conducted interviews in 2005 with some of these individuals in one of the villages included in the area statistics we report.

In all the SMAs cleared of mines/UXO by village demining teams, there have been no reports of mines being found subsequent to the demining work being completed and there have been no reported accidents in these areas. Similarly, although we only interviewed one landowner in the village, he also reported no accidents and no mines found after demining of five hectares (12 acres) that are now intensively farmed.

During the demining work, one accident was reported in the 15 villages in the last two years; this accident involved a person untrained in mine clearance cutting trees. In the two years before the NL1S in 2000, there were three deaths and one injury reported during informal demining activities in the 15 villages. This apparent improved safety record may indicate an increased sophistication in informal community-based demining over the last five years.

The intensity of community concerns with safety of land cleared of mines is indicated by the elaborate procedures for quality assurance and handover that are reported by contracted village demining teams. These procedures include handover certification by commune and district officials; quality assurance with metal detectors in the presence of these officials and other community representatives; and ploughing of the newly cleared land before handover.

During demining activities, both contracted village demining teams and the landowner described somewhat similar procedures. These procedures had been learned from employment in the armed forces and seemed to have been implemented in a disciplined manner. There have been no reported incidents during these demining activities.

The one accident reported seems to have occurred during what we would describe as sporadic, incremental and unplanned informal demining in contrast to the disciplined and carefully planned activities of the village demining team. It is in such situations that it is to be most expected that accidents are likely to occur.

Removal and destruction of mines/UXO discovered by community-based mine action initiatives is often by arrangement with "official" organizations. This arrangement promotes safety by reducing risk from tampering with stored mines/UXO and during destruction.

Tools used to assist mine/UXO detection and removal are very similar to those used by the "official" organizations, and this is not surprising as these organizations are often the source of the rented equipment. A significant difference is in the use of body armour. None of those interviewed used special protection for any parts of their bodies—unlike all the employees of "official" organizations for whom the use of body armour is obligatory.

Why Informal Demining?

One village in the selected area provides an understanding of why communities have relied so heavily on mine clearance outside the formal system.

When internally displaced persons started to settle in this village in 1997, the representative of a local charity involved with providing development assistance to the village told us the charity requested CMAC clear areas for a school and later for a clinic. They were unable to assist. Later the charity again asked CMAC for assistance with clearing agricultural land to support the IDPs. Again they were unable to assist. Waiting time is reported to be three years. CMAC did clear 1,500 metres (1 mile) of the main road through the village. When the Provincial Land Use Planning Unit was started, the charity asked them to assist and was advised to approach the district chief; this was done, but none of the projects made the LUPU priority lists.

They found another NGO works in the same area and contracts with MAG to clear mines. The charity therefore approached MAG and was also told they would have to wait three years. Throughout this period, there had been a rapid increase in population, mainly through internal migration.

A village demining team was started when the district chief asked the charity to assist with a road project in this village. In 1997, the road was still mined and needed bridges and culverts as well as a road bed. The charity hired local men to do the demining, and this was the start of the demining team. Subsequent demining work has been authorized by the district office. We were shown a handwritten, signed and stamped authorization from the district and commune offices.

In this case, contracted demining clearly reflects community priorities. Battambang MAPU believes that these carefully designed, responsible arrangements are unique in the province.

Conclusion

Early results of data collected by the Battambang MAPU in 2005 concerning mine clearance are very encouraging. A large portion of the SMAs in the selected communities have been cleared of mines and are now safe and in productive use. Socio-economic impacts of mines/UXO in the areas have declined dramatically. "Official" mine action has been minimal in the 15 villages during the last five years. Most of these socio-economic improvements are believed to be attributable to informal community-based mine-clearance initiatives. Over 500 hectares (2 square miles) have been cleared of mines/UXO in five years, more than 90 percent by community-based mine action initiatives.

Injuries and deaths from mine/UXO accidents in the selected area have decreased from 14 to four during comparable two-year periods. The number of families denied access to agricultural land has decreased by 58 percent, despite an increasing population.

Safety issues related to the use of cleared land after demining and also during the demining process are exemplary. There have been no reported mine-related accidents on land that has been cleared by community-based mine action initiatives. Only one accident has been reported during unplanned activities.

The sophistication of contracted group mine action is remarkable and the results are impressive. In one instance, a process for local community verification of clearance work has been developed. Although contracted mine clearance of this type may be a unique situation in Cambodia, its success may stimulate similar initiatives that complement "official" demining.

This report is based on data collected in 2005 by the MAPU in Battambang and it compares this data with data collected by the NL1S in 2000. Currently, this data is only available for selected areas in Battambang, but the MAPU is attempting to prepare a comprehensive inventory. With this new data, it is possible for the first time to quantify the changes in mine-contaminated areas in Cambodia.

The analysis presented in this paper and our conclusions are the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily present the views of GeoSpatial International Inc., the government of Canada, nor the Royal Government of Cambodia. GeoSpatial International Inc., based in Victoria, Canada, has worked on various contracts in Cambodia with the Canadian International Development Agency since 2000.

Biographies

Michael Simmons is vice president of GSI and has been responsible for the companyís mine action work in Cambodia since 2000. He has worked in international development since 1984 working on projects throughout Southeast Asia. Educated as a geographer in Scotland and Victoria, Canada, he worked for many years in land use planning in eastern Canada. He now lives with his wife in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Mao Vanna is general manager of GeoSpatial Cambodia. Born in 1968, he is married with four children and lives in Phnom Penh. After graduating from university, he joined the Cambodian armed forces. He worked at CMAC in various positions including verification, information and operations before joining GSI in 2000.

Soun Chea is currently working under contract to GSI as the community mine action planning coordinator for Battambang province. For the previous five years he was chief of the Land Use Planning Unit in the province (now the Mine Action Planning Unit). Born in Kdol, Battambang, in 1957, he is married with three children. He joined the government in 1987 to work in the provincial governorís office and before that he was a school teacher.

Noum Chay Roum was appointed to his position as chief of MAPU, Battambang province in January 2005, having worked since 1992 in the provincial governorís office. Before that he was in military communications for five years. Born in Phum Treas, Battambang, in 1967, he is married with two children and lives in Battambang.

Endnotes

  1. L1S is an abbreviation for Level One Survey that is commonly used in Cambodia. This is not to be confused with LIS (Landmine Impact Survey), which is in common use in most other parts of the world.
  2. Bottomley, Ruth (2001). "Returning life to Field and Forest: Mine Clearance by Villagers in Cambodia." Journal of Mine Action, 5.1 p.13. http://www.jmu.edu/cisr/journal/5.1/Focus/Ruth_Bottom/bottom.html. Accessed Nov. 22, 2005.
  3. Bottomley, Ruth. (Dec. 31, 2003). Crossing the Divide: Landmines, Villagers and Organizations. http://www.prio.no/page/preview/preview/9429/40814.html. Accessed Nov. 22, 2005.
  4. Fleisher, Michael L. (2005) Informal Village Demining in Cambodia: An Operational Study. http://www.handicapinternational.be/downloads/Informal_Village_Demining.pdf. Accessed Nov. 22, 2005.

Contact Information

Michael Simmons
Vice President
GeoSpatial International, Inc. Cambodia
#480 E Street 271
Group 33 Sangkat Tumnup Toek
Khan Chamcarmorn
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Tel/Fax: +855 23 987879
E-mail: msimmons@geospatial.ca

Mao Vanna
General Manager
GeoSpatial International, Inc. Cambodia
# 480 E Street 271
Group 33 Sangkat Tumnup Toek
Khan Chamcarmorn
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Mobile: +855 12 942602
E-mail: maovanna@everyday.com.kh

Soun Chea
GeoSpatial International, Inc. Cambodia
c/o MAPU Battambang
Road No. 3
Rural Development Office
Svay Por commune, Battambang district
Battambang province
Cambodia
Mobile: +855 12 641565
E-mail: sounchea@yahoo.com

Noum Chay Roum
MAPU Battambang
Road No. 3
Rural Development Office
Svay Por commune, Battambang district
Battambang province, Cambodia
Tel: +855 12 935 333
E-mail: lupubat@online.com.kh