Saturday, April 5, 2008

International Mine Awareness Day

Friday April 4 was International Mine Awareness Day. I figured that would be a good time to give you some statistics about landmines.

The most heavily mined countries in the world right now are Afghanistan, Angola and Cambodia. I won’t list the numbers in each country as its frankly irrelevant.

There are roughly 80 countries thought be effected by explosive remnants of war (ERW). Mines don’t merely destroy life and limb; they destroy the economy of an entire village or region. Oftentimes the villagers have no other recourse than to farm a suspected plot of land. It’s either that or starve. Or move to the city and beg on the street. And if they pick the wrong plot of land – boom.

There were over 450,000 reported landmine incidents around the world last year. Don’t you like that word, “incident”? What is an “incident”? An incident is a person who ‘interacted’ with an ERW. Some poor soul who found a mine or UXO and if he was lucky, merely lost a few fingers. In the worst case, there’s not enough left to bury.

Now those were 450,000 reported incidents. Everyone agrees the number is vastly higher, but the countries affected hardly have adequate reporting systems. Sometimes they barely have an operating government.

There are some wonderful groups working around the world to clear these weapons of terror. They are called humanitarian deminers. The largest group is undoubtedly The Halo Trust ( Many of you know them as Princess Diana’s charity to clear landmines. I’ve been remiss is not talking about them and the wonderful work that they are accomplishing here in Cambodia. They have removed thousands of landmines throughout the country. They currently have over 1,200 demining staff working in 5 different provinces of the country.

Another group very active in the country is Mine Action Group ( MAG was the co-laureate of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize awarded for its work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. They have about 500 employees in Cambodia working to clear ERW, and 34% are women.

The 3rd large group doing demining here is the Cambodian Mine Action Centre, ( CMAC employs over 3,000 people in its organization and operates across the country as the ‘national’ demining organization. As well as demining it does mine awareness classes, mine verification, and UXO clearance and training. That’s a bit of a simplification, but it gives you the flavor of what they do.

So the obvious question is what can CSHD offer, and how can it enhance the work of the existing organizations in the country. And that is a very fair question and is being asked right now in Cambodia.

First of all, CSHD is a Khmer (Cambodian) NGO. It will not be funded by the government, as is CMAC. It will be an all Khmer demining company, run by Khmers for the benefit of Khmers. It won’t be working in other countries, only in Cambodia.

CSHD has no intention or desire to grow to the size of Halo, CMAC or even MAG. It wants to be a small, fast response demining operation that can meet immediate threats and needs as villagers around the country identify them. To give you an example: I know of one village in which a landmine was found, and CMAC contacted immediately. 7 days later no one had yet arrived to clear the mine. In a case like this the villagers could contact CSHD, who would immediately respond, clear the identified threat, search the area for any additional ERW and report their findings to the national authority. We’ll be driving a Volkswagen, not trying to redirect the Queen Mary.

CSHS hopes to field a 5-man team of deminers this year. We hope to field 2 – 3 teams in the following 12 months. Our total staff will be under 24, allowing CSHD to concentrate on areas that aren’t currently being cleared, but have suspected ERWs in their area.

Numerous villages have contacted Aki Ra across the country asking him to help them make the area safe. That’s all he wants to do.

We were in Phnom Penh this week for some meetings and Aki Ra and I started talking about Halo and MAG and CMAC. I asked him what he thought of them and he said ‘anyone who clears mines is making my country safer and doing good work. I like them.’ I have NEVER heard Aki Ra say a bad word about another demining organization.

Riding around in our tuk tuk from place to place, I asked Aki Ra which he liked best, Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. He looked back at me and said, “I like the jungle. I want to go back and clear mines.” With your help we’ll make his wish come true.

The last thing I'd like you to do is go to the following link and watch the video. It's self explanatory

(Click on "See the video" Then choose whether you have a hi or low speed connection. Most of you have hi speed.)


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