Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mine-free world comes at a price

Prime Minister Hun Sen kicked off the Kingdom’s largest international conference to date yesterday by making an impassioned, albeit indirect, appeal for continued international aid in order to achieve Cambodia’s goal of becoming a mine-free country by the year 2020.

“In this era of economic difficulty and uncertainty…we cannot be deterred and our accomplishment should not be compromised by the financial turmoil,” the premier said during the Opening Ceremony of the 11th Meeting of the States Parties, a formal gathering in Phnom Penh of the 158 states that have signed the Anti-Personnel Mine-Ban Convention. Also known as the Ottawa Treaty, the treaty prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines.

“Without intensifying the speed and efficiency of the way in which we address our respective problems, our ultimate goal of a mine-free world will remain at a distance,” he added. Hun Sen’s veiled appeal comes on the heels of last week’s release of the 2011 Landmine Monitor report, which indicated that international mine-action aid to Cambodia had fallen sharply – by nearly a third – to US$24.3 million between 2009 and 2010. 

This drop in funding occurred despite a trend of increasing help globally for anti-landmine efforts, the report indicated. Worldwide aid from donor countries rose by 8 per cent in 2010 to US$480 million, according to the report.

Speaking on the sidelines of yesterday’s opening ceremony, Cameron Imber, programme manager for worldwide demining agency HALO Trust, lamented this decrease in international aid, saying his organisation’s funding had dropped by nearly 40 per cent over the past three years, from US$7 million in 2008 to US$4.3 million this year.

“The results are obvious. Less funding means less deminers on the ground, which means less mines are removed,” he said.

Cambodia ratified the Anti-Personnel Mine-Ban Convention in 1999 and it officially took effect in January 2000. Signatories to the Convention have 10 years from the date of ratification to clear their states of mines. However, unable to meet this mandate, the Kingdom applied for, and received, a 10-year extension in 2009, giving it until January 2020 to eradicate all landmines from within its borders.

During this week’s conference, Cambodia will be required to report on the progress it has made toward achieving this ambitious target, which is also one of the country’s nine Millennium Development Goals. 

Prime Minister Hun Sen also lauded Cambodia’s mine-clearance efforts, saying that if trends for the first 10 months of this year continued, 2011 would be the first year “since the country was unified” that mine casualties would dip below 200.

Some experts, however, have questioned the reliability of casualty statistics in determining mine-clearance effectiveness. At times, declining casualty rates simply indicate that locals are becoming more aware of their surroundings and less likely to venture into areas known to be contaminated with mines, they say.

Phnom Penh is hosting the week-long Meeting of the States Parties for the first time in the conference’s 11-year history. More than 1,000 delegates representing more than 100 countries are expected to attend.