An overnight rain had washed away most of the evidence that a bomb had exploded in Phnom Penh Monday and wounded six children, one of them seriously.
A half-meter crater, a blood-stained green dress and a fingernail-sized piece of shrapnel are the only tangible proof remaining that the bomb detonated at the site.
“When I held my children after the accident, I became stained with blood,” said Leng Sok Kean, the mother of three of the six children who were wounded. “When I cleaned the children’s clothes, I could not bear looking at it.”
Leng Sok Kean’s 6-year-old son Leng Vibol, who had a bandage wrapped around his left arm, remained motionless as he lay on a small wooden bed under a mosquito net. Although his wound from the bomb was minor, his mother could not afford the $5 tetanus shot—let alone the costly surgery that would remove the shrapnel imbedded in his arm—because she had to pay for the medicine and medical care for her other two children, Leng Sina and Leng Soknin.
Both Leng Sina and Leng Soknin were rushed to Kantha Bopha 1 Hospital in Phnom Penh Tuesday morning after they were stabilized at Kandal Stung hospital in Kandal Stung district following the explosion.
Although Leng Soknin, 10, is expected to recover from his injury, eight-year-old Leng Sina’s injury is so severe that he is not expected to survive, said Kan Vanny, a nurse at Kandal Stung hospital who attended to all the victims on Monday.
While initial reports of Monday’s incident indicated the children had uncovered the bomb and hit it with a hammer, villagers and a district police officer tell a different story. Several villagers said the children were tending cows along a man-made dirt dam that was constructed to stop the flooding in the area when they came across a round fist-sized bomb.
The bomb exploded when one of the children tossed it to the ground, said Youk Poc, 70, whose house sits several meters from the explosion site.
“There was a big boom, then I saw smoke, then I heard children crying,” Youk Poc said. “All the children were on the ground when I found them, and they were covered in blood.”
The economic impact of this bomb incident on the families of the victims extend beyond the immediate hospital bills and health care.
Since many of the children in Ang village help with family chores, the loss of three children in one family could greatly affect a family like Leng Sok Kean’s, who only earn $7.50 per month farming.
“The children always went out together to tend the cows in the fields,” Leng Sok Kean said. “Now the neighbor’s children help out with the cows until the children’s health improves.”
For Leng Sok Kean, this accident couldn’t have come at a worse time. Not only is she nine months pregnant and due to deliver her fourth child in 10 days, but her husband is currently working as a baker in Kien Svay district, Kandal province. She said she has not reached her husband yet, but mentioned that even if she does, there is not much he could do. Because he was hired only last month, Leng Sok Kean said his boss would probably not allow him to leave his job.
They also need any money he can earn right now.
“It is too early to say how we will recover from this,” she said. “We have no nickel or gold saved up, and we need to pay so much money for the three children.”
While figures were not immediately available for the amount of money Cambodian families lose each year because of lost wages due to land mine incidents, the Canadian government is currently funding a Level One Survey in Cambodia, slated to be completed in January. The study is analyzing, among other topics, the economic impact of land mines in Cambodia, said officials conducting the survey.
“Denied access to agricultural land, limited access to markets, and inhibited access to other villages all impact Cambodia economically,” said one official at the survey office.
Although the Level One Survey is not complete, preliminary figures show that an estimated 90,000 families cannot use agricultural lands while some 2,000 villages have limited or no access to markets because of land mines or unexploded bombs.
Many families continue to use land that is deemed dangerous out of necessity, as evidenced by this recent incident in Dangkao.
While Dangkao and other Phnom Penh districts have been relatively free from land mine and unexploded ordnance incidents in recent years, many areas in Cambodia still suffer from the estimated six million land mines and UXOs left strewn throughout the country. In 2000, land mines and UXOs wounded or killed 811 people; in 1999, that number was 1071, according to the Cambodian Mine/UXO Victim Information System Monthly Mine Report.