By: Sarah Huddleston and Niccolò Beduschi
Analysts, IB Consultancy
This past year, the CBRNe Society, an international non-profit organization with the purpose of providing a nucleus of knowledge in the CBRNe community, promoting innovation and building bridges between stakeholders, signed a partnership agreement with the Cambodian Mine Action Center and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA).
The new partnership agreement sheds light on the current state of the estimated 1800 square kilometers littered with landmines and explosive remnants, often in areas densely covered with forests and mountainous regions. Since 1979, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor reports that 64,720 mines/unexploded remnants of war produced 19,758 deaths and injured 44,962 people (58 casualties in 2017).
In this context of clear and present danger, information about a potential minefield can be reported directly to clearance operators, or indirectly through local authorities or the CMAA. The operator will conduct a survey by involving key local informants to identify the boundaries of the minefield. Survey information is then recorded and sent to the CMAA for storage in the national database for future reference. Once the minefield has been classified as a priority, the operator will discuss with the local authorities to plan for its clearance. If the operator does not have the capacity/resources to do so, then it reports to local authorities and the CMAA accordingly. In this case, the local authorities and the CMAA may seek support from an operator who has the capacity to clear it.
As the national mine action authority, the CMAA is responsible for the development and maintenance of Cambodian Mine Action Standards (CMAS). The CMAS are developed based on International Mine Action Standards and adapted to the Cambodian context. These standards specify requirements to be met. Every operator must develop their own Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to comply with the CMAS. When developed, the SOPs are submitted to the CMAA for review to ensure they are compliant with the CMAS. Once approved, the operator can use their SOPs.
Clearance operator teams working in the field are subject to independent quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) by the CMAA’s quality management teams to ensure their practice is safe and in line with the approved SOPs.
The following are the clearance operators active in Cambodia:
- Royal Cambodian Army Force (national—has 294 staff)
- Cambodian Mine Action Center (national—has about 1,451staff)
- HALO Trust (international—has 1,126 staff)
- Mine Advisory Group (international—has 410 staff)
- Norwegian People’s Aid (international—only clearing cluster munitions—has 86 staff)
- Cambodia Self Help Demining (local—has 38 staff)
The efforts of these organizations are overseen by the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority, which was established in 2000 to streamline demining efforts across different groups.
Collectively, these organizations’ efforts have helped release land back to the people of Cambodia, making it safer for families to live. Thus far, around 80 percent of land has been declared free of dangerous remnants of war. As a result, the land is able to be used for farming, which provides local families and farmers with a greater level of income.
The diversity of the teams involved on the ground translates in the variety of equipment used in clearance operations. Metal detectors, dogs, rats and machines, including mechanical brush cutters, are all used in detection. Prodders and vegetation cutters are key as well as personal protective equipment (7 deminers lost their lives in 2017).
Each clearance operator has the capacity to train their own deminers. The training consists of theoretical and practical courses. A full deminer training course is about 4-6 weeks in duration.
During the training, deminers practice with demining tools, mine detectors and free from-explosive mines that are kept for training purposes.
The training will also cover basic demolition of live explosive items.
Beyond the deminer training, there are different levels of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) qualifications related to the complexity of the tasks. Each EOD training course will take some months to cover theory and practice.
The number and variety of explosives accumulated in subsequent conflicts involving Cambodia since WWII, combined with its geographical context and the multiple actors involed in the clearance opearations results in one of the most complex battles worldide in reclaiming land from explosive devises. Cambodia's national strategy estimated that more than $175 million would be needed for activities in 2015–2019 signaling that more is to be done and that the efforts, as well as the attention of experts in this field, both nationally and internationally, should continue to focus on the challenge ahead.