Investing in Clearing Minefields Helps Communities

Annual reports are proving that cleared minefields handed back to communities bring social, economic and environmental benefits
A girl rides a bicycle near temples in Siem Reap province. Kiripost/Siv Channa
A girl rides a bicycle near temples in Siem Reap province. Kiripost/Siv Channa

Mine clearance in Cambodia is proving that returning safe land to communities for productive use is creating pathways for recovery that enable social, economic and environmental benefits, a report reveals.

According to the ‘Cambodian Mine Action Sector Briefing Paper Series: Post-Clearance Monitoring’ by the UNDP, post-clearance monitoring (PCM) – the observation and collection of information from communities on the use of land that has been cleared of mines – also “illustrates to development partners and stakeholders that mine clearance is an investment in people and societies”.

Annually, Mine Action Planning Units (MAPU), whose role is to coordinate, facilitate and formulate annual clearance work plans in consultation with affected communities and clearance operators to ensure that mine clearance supports the needs and priorities of people, collect data to analyse the socio-economic impact of land that has been cleared of landmines and other explosives.

The data collected includes the total size of the cleared areas and size of cleared minefields used by the community, what returned land is used for and the number of people who benefit from it, any disputes on cleared minefield land and any reasons why cleared land is not in use.

The report said, “The purpose of the PCM is to understand what the cleared minefield land is being used for and what improvement is required for the MAPU to ensure that the planning and prioritisation process supports the needs and priorities of the affected communities and that the cleared land is fully used productively.”

Cambodia’s landmine problem is the result of years of war that dogged the country from the 1960s until the end of 1998. According to the UNDP report, the northwest regions bordering Thailand remain the most heavily affected, while other parts of the country are considered moderate to low.

It was originally estimated that between four and six million landmines were laid during conflicts. In addition, the country remains littered with explosive remnants of war (ERW) due to aerial bombing and ground battles.

Mines and ERW continue to threaten and injure Cambodians, both military and civilian, with more than 65,000 mine and ERW casualties recorded in the national database from 1979 to 2022.

Mine clearance in Cambodia started in 1992 with the support of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). It was necessary to clear transportation routes for the hundreds of thousands of Cambodian refugees living in camps in Thailand to return home.

When this phase was completed, operations shifted to clear land for housing and agriculture to support the reintegration of returnees, reconstruction, recovery and future development.

In the early days, clearance operators selected minefields in consultation with affected communities and military officers. In the late 1990s, the planning and prioritisation of mine clearance was handed over to provincial MAPUs to ensure the needs and priorities of affected communities.

The latest report from 2020 provides a snapshot of the socio-economic contribution of clearing 121 minefields in Malai and Thma Puok districts in Banteay Meanchey. The size of the 121 minefields is 520.44 hectares, with 808 anti-personnel mines, 19 anti-tank mines, and 474 items of ERW cleared, meaning the land could be safely handed to communities.

The clearance of the minefields was found to directly and indirectly benefit 80,574 households comprising 354,986 people, of which 49 percent were women. Among those, 3,106 people were living with disabilities. Of the total households, 7,777 households were headed by women.

On average, the price of the land before clearance was $1,397 per hectare. After clearance it increased 694 percent in value, to $9,701 per hectare. The majority of cleared land was used for rice farming (41.07 percent), followed by cassava farming (40.49 percent).

The remainder was used for risk reduction, constructing roads, planting cashew trees, farming corn, planting mango trees, farming sugar cane and for housing. A total of 7.01 percent of the land was not in use.

The report concluded, “Funding mine clearance is an investment benefiting rural communities living in mine affected areas.”