Clearing landmines on the road to sustainable development
When peace returned to Cambodia after decades of war, people uprooted by the conflict went back to their villages and farms. Moeurng Phan was among them. By 1993, her village of Veal Vong in the north-west of the country had begun to welcome back its former residents.
“Life was very difficult,” said Moeurng Phan. She worked with her nephew on their farm despite the risks: the village was surrounded by 17 minefields with a combined size of over 121 football fields. “We had to reclaim our land, or we would have nothing,” she said.
Her nephew hit an anti-tank mine while driving a tractor and was killed. “I could do nothing for him. I was deeply shocked. I couldn’t eat for weeks,” she said. Forty-nine people have been killed or injured by unexploded mines in the small village.
With support from UNDP, the government, the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority, and the Cambodian Mine Action Centre began to clear the contaminated land. “We started clearing mines in 2004,” said Noum Chhayroum of the Mine Action Planning Unit in Veal Vong. “We found 398 landmines, 32 anti-tank mines and 229 other explosives.”
Free from landmines
The last contaminated field in Veal Vong was cleared in 2019. “There has been a big change in the last few years,” said Morn’Mon, Deputy Village Chief. “Many people now have tractors. There are drying facilities for corn. There is animal farming. We can market our produce.”
UNDP began its work on mine action in Cambodia 30 years ago. Through partnership and the joint effort of the government, the national authority, armed forces, and mine action operators, 2,300 square kilometres of land have been cleared, 4 million unexploded ordnances destroyed and 7.5 million people in the country have benefited.
“Anti-personnel mines and explosive remnants of war have caused widespread fear and suffering to individuals, families and communities, significantly impacting the nation’s development prospects,” said Alissar Chaker, UNDP Resident Representative for Cambodia.
She said the mine action work “provided some of the most vulnerable and impoverished people with a chance to improve their livelihoods through access to cleared land and its return to productive use.”
More action needed
There are 200 square kilometres of land that still need to be cleared in Cambodia. Much work remains to be done both there and around the world. Landmines, cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war are present in more than 60 countries, half of which are the poorest countries in the world.
More than 350,000 people have been killed or maimed by explosive weapons over the last decade, according to Action on Armed Violence; 75 percent were civilians. The Landmine Monitor says that the number of victims has steadily increased since 2013.
Explosive remnants of war don’t just take lives and limbs; they hinder reconstruction and recovery, and deprive communities of land for cultivation. UNDP believes mine action accelerates broader sustainable development, delivering jobs, livelihoods, food security, and water and sanitation.
Marking 30 years of action on landmines
Over the past three decades, UNDP and its partners have supported over 50 countries to tackle the challenges posed by landmines, providing explosive ordnance risk education, victim assistance, and undertaking clearance operations. Through strengthening governments, UNDP delivers emergency job programmes and local development initiatives, supports the reconstruction of damaged infrastructure, implements repatriation plans, rebuilds trust and creates safe livelihoods.
For instance, in Yemen over 5 million people have benefited from mine clearance activities, and over 1 million people beneficiated from awareness activities. Prevention is better than cure: by promoting behavioural change through public-information campaigns, the numbers of mine victims can be greatly reduced. In Viet Nam, UNDP supports the government in clearance, education and assistance to survivors, who receive prosthetics and rehabilitation.
Lao PDR has been, per capita, the most heavily bombed country in the world. Support to the government’s clearance operations includes a new evidence-based survey methodology. In Tajikistan, UNDP has been helping to develop the capacity of the National Mine Action Centre. In Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lebanon, UNDP provided 170,000 victims with vocational training, access to small grants and social rehabilitation. Three hundred villages in Lebanon are using land cleared of mines for socio-economic activities.
With assistance from UNDP, Albania, Guinea Bissau, Jordan, Mozambique and Uganda have declared themselves free of known anti-personnel mines.
International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action
The UN is marking its work on mine action on 4 April with a series of events at its headquarters in New York and in offices around the world. The events in New York include an exhibition to which UNDP has contributed an installation on 30 years of work in Cambodia.
Looking ahead, there is much more to do to reduce the risks and build better futures for mine-affected communities. Conflicts and violence are becoming more complex, intense and urbanized. Left behind explosive remnants of war hinder safe return, early recovery and long-term sustainable development.
Under the coordination of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), UNDP will strengthen national ownership and build new partnerships to deliver development benefits of mine action and to build resilient communities.
Achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development means a world free from the threat of mines and other explosive remnants of war, to ensure that no one, no state, and no war zone is left behind.