, , ,

Clearing Landmines in Cambodia

Landmines in Cambodia
Cambodia is a country located on the Indochinese mainland of Southeast Asia. As of 2017, the country has a population of more than 16 million people. Much of Cambodia’s landscape consists of beautiful flowing rivers and large flat plains that transition into mountains. Unfortunately, though, much of this land is unsafe for use.
During the Vietnam War, more than 26 million explosive sub-munitions fell on Cambodia. As a result of the landmines in Cambodia, there have been roughly 64,000 landmine casualties and 25,000 amputees since 1979.

In response, a group, APOPO, has been clearing landmines throughout the affected region. APOPO and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have cleared nearly half of the country’s minefields.

In addition to the landmines in Cambodia, APOPO has been clearing land for 20 years in over 50 different countries. It specifically targeted Cambodia because the nation has the highest ratio of mine amputees per capita. The land APOPO can clear the land efficiently and accurately with mine detection rats so that it is safe for Cambodians to use. 

APOPO’s Mission

People in areas with mines are often too frightened to utilize the land for activities such as farming, and rightly so, because there is no way of knowing where the landmines are. Many often use metal detectors for explosive detection although this is quite dangerous and time exhaustive. People have scattered scrap metal throughout the land and it often sets off the metal detectors for false positives. APOPO employs rats to detect and clear landmines in Cambodia and other countries.

The training of giant African pouched rats allows APOPO to effectively detect the landmines. Not only is this faster, but it is also much safer because it causes no harm to the rats as they are far too light to set off the mines. The use of these rats completely diminishes the additional risks to human casualty. For comparison, these mine detecting rats are able to detect mines in an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes while a person would take up to four days.

APOPO’s Work in Cambodia

Beginning in April 2015, APOPO launched the noble work of landmine clearing in Cambodia. This was the NGO’s first time doing work in a country outside of Africa. This project consisted of bringing mine detection rats to help a local group, the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC).

CMAC and APOPO joined together to clear landmines in Cambodia. They decided to tackle the most affected villages, which are located in the Siem Reap and Preah Vihear provinces. 

To ensure quality, the mine detection rats undergo training and performance tests over a three month period. This even included live minefield testing at the end of the training; all mine detection rats passed these tests. The CMAC used metal detectors to check all of the zones after the rats searched for mines. Results indicated that the rats did not miss a single landmine. 

So far, APOPO and the CMAC have found over 45,000 unexploded landmines in Cambodia. Through joint efforts, these groups have been able to clear mines in 15 million square meters of land. Thanks to the initiatives of these NGOs, people in these local communities will no longer fear death over simple movement throughout the village. The unnecessary risk of people losing lives and limbs completely reduces. In addition to subduing the danger imposed on the people, agriculture has the potential to flourish within these communities.

After speaking with the APOPO U.S. Director, Charlie Ritcher, he spoke about working with various other groups and NGOs. Ritcher spoke of the importance of working with groups such as the Cambodian Mine Action Centre; he felt that collaborative efforts make a more substantial impact in the fight to improve living conditions throughout the world. Combining resources allows each group to diminish redundancy, reduce time spent, improve financial situations and, most importantly, save many more lives.

Impact of APOPO In Cambodia

According to the World Bank collection of development indicators, 76.6 percent of Cambodia’s population lived in rural areas as of 2018, the primary area of APOPO’s work. Unfortunately, the rural population experiences more impoverished living conditions than those living in urban areas. Rural areas typically include poor access to proper sanitation facilities and electricity. To further outline rural circumstances, 90 percent of the poor in Cambodia live in rural areas.

In the past 20 years, these numbers have significantly decreased. From 2007 to 2014, the rate of poverty within the country dropped from 47.7 percent to 13.5 percent. Cambodia’s poverty rates have further declined as a result of the economy’s impressive annual growth rate of 8 percent over the past two decades. 

APOPO’s clearing of landmines in Cambodia further aid in improving the conditions of poverty throughout these communities. Clearing the land, which has not been safe for use in nearly 30 years, allows Cambodians to use it for agriculture to further develop the growing economy.

Cambodia has great agricultural potential because of the landscape; with vast amounts of plains and large rivers, the land is a perfect recipe for robust farming. In 2018, due to an increase in available land, the agricultural sector expanded and became 22 percent of the nation’s GDP. Additionally, the gross value rose by 4.4 percent.

APOPO is Saving Lives

After the Vietnam War, over 40,000 people have lost a limb and 64,000 have died as a result of landmines in Cambodia. A person should never fear death or limb loss to perform daily activities, especially as a result of random wartime mines.  Clearing landmines in Cambodia by using mine detecting rats allows citizens to regain a normal life and launch into a more sustainable life.

APOPO has been able to implement an innovative method to improve living conditions throughout Cambodia. A majority of the country’s population lives in rural areas where there are profound agricultural opportunities. Such opportunities have the potential to greatly reduce poverty throughout the nation.

Important work, like that of APOPO, of implementing unique and effective methods to fight against unnecessary harm that restricts people’s livelihood is key in reducing poverty and improving quality of life. 

– James Turner
Photo: Flickr