November 11, 2016
Cambodia is on track to miss a critical 2025 deadline to clear its minefields because it is spending too much money and manpower on land with few or no mines, according to a new report that warns of “disastrous” consequences if the country fails to meet the target.
When Cambodia signed the U.N.’s Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention in 2000, it made a pledge to clear its anti-personnel mines over the next 10 years with the help of international donors. Far from the goal, it won an extension to 2019. With that target also out of reach, it is expected to get another extension to 2025.
But to meet it, the report says, Cambodia will need to significantly narrow and shift its focus to the densest and deadliest minefields, changes the government’s lead demining authority seems reluctant to make.
The Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining, which prepared the report for the U.N., describes 2025 as a “realistic” target. Of the nearly 1,000 square km of minefields Cambodia has left to clear—or otherwise “release” if it turns out there are no mines—only a tenth is classified as dense.
But as of now, the report says, “Cambodia is not in line with the 2025 goal” of clearing those dense minefields.
To get there, Cambodia has to clear an average of 11 square km a year of densely contaminated land over the next nine years. Over the last five years, however, it has averaged only 2 square km per year.
The rate is picking up, but it still cleared only about 3.1 square km last year. And nearly half that area “contained no, or a very limited number of, mines,” the report adds. “As many stakeholders told the review team, Cambodia should ‘stop clearing land with no landmines.’”
It says Cambodia is also spreading its deminers far too thin, across roughly 160 communes, even though over the past five years, just 35 of those communes accounted for 82 percent of mine casualties, or 266 of 323 deaths. (Old bombs and rockets killed or injured another 450.) The Geneva Center recommends prioritizing about 70 communes at most.
“There is no rationale to justify such a geographic dispersion of mine action assets, and it is believed that the mine action planning process is not sufficiently focused on what should be high priority areas,” it says. “By spreading its resources too thinly in too many and too large target areas, the sector minimizes its impact and extends the completion time.”
There’s nothing to stop Cambodia from continuing to clear its minefields after 2025. The fear is that the foreign governments bankrolling the great majority of the work—more than 80 percent of it—won’t stick around to help after being worn down by decades of support and pulled away by other global crises.
Current clearance rates and priorities “would still leave a significant anti-personnel mine contamination in Cambodia while, according to all credible hypotheses, the mine action program will be closed and Cambodia will be left alone to address it,” the report says.
With that in mind, it warns, “It would be disastrous to waste time and resources in areas with low contamination.”