Land mines and other old ordnance killed or injured 120 people from January to the end of July, already more than were killed or injured in all of 2013, according to the latest figures from the Cambodia Mine Action Authority (CMAA).
The statistics mean 2014 will be the first time since 2010 that total casualties from old land mines and ordnance for one year will be higher than the year before. The land mines and ordnance, left over from a combination of U.S. bombing and civil war from the 1960s through the 1980s, killed or injured 111 people in 2013.
Of the 120 casualties so far this year, 14 people were killed, 28 lost one or more limbs and 78 were otherwise injured. The casualties were caused by a total of 74 accidents, 23 more than CMAA recorded over the same period last year.
Heng Ratana, director-general of the CMAA’s Cambodian Mine Actions Center (CMAC), the government’s demining arm, blamed the increase this year on mounting “economic pressure” pushing more and more farmers onto contaminated land.
“Last year, there [were] less accidents in agricultural areas,” he said, meaning the growing demand for farmland was pushing people into riskier areas.
Mr. Ratana said the problem was particularly acute this year in Battambang province, where more farmers were moving from manual to mechanized farming, which is more likely to trigger buried mines. He said some landowners who knew better than to drive a tractor across their land were also hiring nonlocals to do the risky work for them, “because they are scared to do it themselves.”
Battambang accounted for 37 of the 120 casualties this year, more than any other province.
In response to the sudden rise in casualties, Mr. Ratana said CMAC had stepped up its work of educating locals about the buried explosives around them.
Long Paorn, deputy director of Battambang’s agriculture department, said his staff also mixes in lessons on land mine risk with their advice on raising crop yields when they visit with farmers.
Mr. Paorn said he knew that farmers often hire others to work land they know may be risky but said the farmers-for-hire usually know the risks as well.
“The problem is that they are poor and they need the money to support their families even though they know a place has land mines,” he said. “They decide to take the risk.”
(Additional reporting by Hay Pisey)