Mines In Cambodia

7 12 2011

On Sunday, Katie kicked some serious Angkor Wat butt as she ran a half marathon around some of the most famous temples in the world. The race proceeds went to benefit several causes, but land mine victims in particular. According to UNICEF, Cambodia is the second most mined country in the world by area (second only to Bosnia and Herzegovina) with an estimated 143 mines per square mile.  The number of mines and other unexploded ordinance in Cambodia is a very rough estimate, but I have seen 4 million (Cambodian Mine Action Centre) to 10 million (UN). In contrast to mines in other countries, the mines remaining in the ground in Cambodia were never mapped as they were put in the ground. This obviously makes demining efforts very slow, very dangerous, and very costly.

So where did all the mines come from? Mines were laid by the North Vietnamese as early as 1967, and  by the US-backed Lon Nol regime against the incoming Khmer Rouge fighters from 1970-1975. A large amount was also used under the Khmer Rouge along every border, and surrounding farm cooperatives. Later, the Khmer Rouge insurgents laid mines during the civil war from 1979 to 1998. Of course, mines were also laid by the regimes following the Khmer Rouge against the insurgents and against any possible Thai invasion.

Besides mines, still other dangers remain from unexploded ordinance (UXO) dropped by the United States during the secret bombing campaign from 1965 to 1973 under Johnson and Nixon. 2,756,941 tons of bombs were dropped on Cambodia by the US during this time (more than all of the bombs dropped by the Allies in World War II) and with a dud rate of about 10%, that leaves a lot of very dangerous material lying around.

US Bombing Concentrations

Strangely enough, I happened to be reading George Carlin’s When Will Jesus Bring the Porkchops? as I was thinking about writing this entry, and believe it or not, even he weighed in on the issue globally:

There are 340 different types of land mines made by a hundred different companies. Every day roughly six thousand fresh mines are placed in the ground. Right now, there are 110 million land mines in seventy-two countries; and every twenty-two minutes, one of them explodes. Seventy-five mines explode every day, and each month seven hundred people are maimed or killed. Don’t you find that interesting?

Mines cost only three dollars to make and put in the ground. But they cost a hundred dollars [$1,000+] to disarm and remove. If you tried to remove them all, it would cost $33 billion and it would take eleven hundred years. They cost three dollars apiece, and they last indefinitely. Wouldn’t it be nice if other products could make that claim?

Here’s another funny statistic: In Cambodia, one out of every 236 civilians is missing a limb or an eye from an exploded land mine. Cambodia now has thirty thousand people [40,000] with at least one missing limb. And they still have 4 [6-10] million mines in the ground.

Even as unreliable a resource as George Carlin may be, his statistics still underestimate the issue. I added the higher stats in brackets for your reading pleasure.

Mine and UXO Casualties

Besides creating a country where 40,000 people are living as amputees, land mines and UXO have contaminated an estimated 648 km2 of land that could otherwise be used for agriculture. While waiting for the land to be cleared, often Cambodians risk their lives in search of water, firewood, or just to find a place to go to the bathroom.

Although we are in a considerably more contaminated area in the northwest of Cambodia, our town doesn’t not immediately appear to have many landmine victims. Riding our bikes to the surrounding villages tells a different story, however. It is not uncommon to see several amputees during one thirty minute bike trip. There is obviously a geographic bias for victims, but as a result, there is also an economic bias for those affected by mines.

Mine Accidents by Province

Organizations such as the Cambodian Mine Action Center continue to work every day clearing mines and other UXO. The goal is to clear the entire country of mines and UXO by 2019. With the amount of money and time needed to clear these dangers, mine clearing teams undoubtedly have a lot of work ahead of them.


A note to the parents: Although the statistics may be shocking and worrisome, your beloved children are safe and sound.