Traffic accidents and road safety cause the most new cases of disability in Cambodia, according to disability advocacy groups.
Thong Vinal, executive director of the Disability Action Group, said on Wednesday that through analysis of reports from NGOs specializing in injuries that can cause disabilities, traffic accidents numbers have been higher than landmines since the landmine deaths and injuries started dropping in 2005.
“In general, everyone said that injuries from landmines has reduced and injuries from traffic accidents is still high but I don’t have the exact report to compare yet,” he said.
Ngin Saorath, executive director of the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization, also listed traffic accidents as the number 1 cause for new cases of disability as landmine injuries decrease and more roads are built in the country.
“There are still not a lot of people who are aware or respect traffic laws. Only in Phnom Penh do people wear helmets, not out in the provinces,” Mr Saorath said. “If it is a possibility, more traffic awareness and education would drop down the number of new cases of disabilities.”
The 2008 national census, the first to include questions about disabilities, found that 1.4 of the Cambodian population was disabled while the 2004 socioeconomic survey estimated 4.7 percent.
“It is very hard [to get a percentage] and unreliable,” Mr Saorath said.
Traditionally, mines and unexploded ordnances have been the main cause of casualties but data from the Cambodia Mine/ERW Victim Information System 2008 annual report, 224 people were injured and 47 deaths compared to the same year’s Cambodia Road Crash and Victim Information System annual report, which recorded 7,226 severe injuries and 1,638 deaths.
Socheata Sann, Handicap International Belgium’s road safety program manager, said on Wednesday that since the traffic data system was started in 2004, the number of deaths have increased every year.
She said the increase comes from combination of a growing population, which has led to more vehicles on the roads and more infrastructure, meaning there are more opportunities for people to drive more, in the country.
Ms Sann said roughly $1 million is spent by the government and other stakeholders annually on preventing accidents and promoting road safety.
But Ms Sann added the government is showing a commitment to road safety through providing education and enforcement of road rules, especially helmet use.
“For example, only 7 percent of drivers were helmets in 2004 and it is now up to 80 percent in 2010,” Ms Sann said. “It is not enough [money] but the government is willing to focus on the issue and make it a priority.”
Heng Ratana, director-general of the Cambodia Mine Action Center, said on Wednesday that a total $30 million is spent by all stakeholders on mine-related activities last year.
At CMAC, the main activity is clearance with 20 to 30 percent of its $10.5 million operational budget dedicated to mine awareness education, Mr Ratana said, adding that the organization has more than 700 volunteers doing outreach in areas with the heaviest concentration of mines.
“CMAC alone, destroyed 20,000 [unexploded ordnances] alone and responded to 12,000 emergency calls,” Mr Ratana said. “It is also preventive action.”
He added that clearing mines has added benefits beyond limiting casualties such as allowing additional development in such fields such as infrastructure or agriculture.
“We have to look at different results [in addition to the number of victims],” he said.