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Cambodia: promoting economic security among victims of landmines

28-02-2008 Feature

Despite the enormous efforts made during the past 12 years to rid Cambodia of the scourge of mines and other explosive remnants of war, several hundred people continue to be maimed or killed by these weapons in the country every year.

The project

 Promoting economic security among survivors and potential victims of landmine accidents  

    

According to the Cambodian Mine Victim Information System, 80% of the victims in 2004 admitted they were aware of the danger. Nevertheless, they were forced to engage in risky pursuits (such as collecting scrap metal or clearing dangerous areas for farming) simply in order to survive.

   
   
 
Ongoing support for the disabled

  • The ICRC has provided tecnical support to the Cambodia Red Cross' programme to reduce impact of mines and explosive remnants of war since 2006.
  • The ICRC has been providing support for victims of mines and unexploded ordnance in Cambodia for years. This is done through the rehabilitation centres in Kompong Speu and Battambang (in cooperation with the authorities) and the ICRC prosthetic/orthotic component factory in Phnom Penh. Services are provided to patients, including those suffering from disabling diseases, free of charge.
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Based on this finding, the Cambodian Red Cross Society started a micro-credit project in 2005 to support the economic integration at community level of amputees who would have carried on taking risks had an alternate form of income generation not been available. The scheme had 18 beneficiaries in 2005 and initial results were encouraging.

In 2006 the project was expanded so as to target not only economically vulnerable mine survivors but also so-called potential victims, i.e. people who take daily risks with mines and other lethal debris of war. The aim is to prevent or at least reduce the number of accidents by providing economic alternatives that allow people to avoid taking risks.

 How the project works  

The Cambodian Red Cross micro-credit project relies on community meetings – organized to provide information on the risks posed by mines – to identify economically vulnerable mine survivors and potential victims.

Those selected receive small loans (items worth up to 200 US dollars) enabling them to start generating an income (by raising pigs, farming, opening a shop, operating a water pump, etc.) sufficient to meet their basic needs. The type of activity depends on the recipient’s skills and motivation and on the needs in each village – the support given is agreed upon with community leaders. A contribution in kind is always made by the beneficiary or in some cases the community.

The project is managed on a revolving-fund basis. Its loans are interest-free, but beneficiaries must repay them in cash within 12 months. The length of the payback period depends on the type of business and on the beneficiaries’ circumstances. Repaid funds are immediately reinvested in the form of new loans to a new group of beneficiaries.

During the 12-month loan period, Cambodian Red Cross volunteers and development officers remain in close contact with beneficiaries in order to m onitor progress, assess results and offer advice. With financial support from the German Red Cross, small loans were made to 80 people in 2006 and to around 200 in 2007.

 
 

Douen You's story

 “My new job makes life better and protects my family from the risk of mines.”  

Douen You, 56 years old, lives with his wife and seven children in the village of Stoeung Thmey, Veal Veng district, Pursat province.
 
   
  ©ICRC /    
 
Douen You waters his crops using his new pump.    
    The district of Veal Veng is situated in western Cambodia along the border with Thailand. It is highly contaminated with mines and other explosive remnants of war. For almost five years Douen You was engaged in high-risk behaviour.
 
“If I didn’t do it, how could I feed my children when they asked for food? My two older daughters and I went to the forest five days a week to collect resin, scrap metal and mushrooms. We would earn some 40,000 to 50,000 riels ($10-12.50) a week by selling them and use the money to buy food and medicines for my wife and smaller children at home. I have a small piece of land to farm but because of the frequent droughts and occasional floods it rarely produces much.”
 
Douen You was identified by Red Cross volunteers as a suitable loan beneficiary. He received a 12-month interest-free loan to buy a pump that he uses to draw water from a river near his home. This allows him to irrigate the peanuts, corn and other crops he has planted. He has already earned 1,200,000 riels ($300) in the last three months selling his crops. Understandably, he and his family are upbeat about the future. His wife says she is very happy: “I no longer worry about my husband and daughters because they work in a safe area now.”

Koa Nara's story

 “I no longer go to the forest."  

Koa Nara, 49 years old, is a farmer who lives with his four children in the village of Anlong Pourk, Samlot district, Battambang province. He was a soldier from 1979 to 1999. After leaving the military he decided to settle down with his family in Anlong Pourk. Since the area was once a battlefield, it is littered with mines and other unexploded munitions. Koa used to go to the forest regularly to collect mushrooms, wood and resin, which he would sell afterwards.
 
   
  ©ICRC / kh-e-00184    
 
Koa Nara feeds his pigs    
    “Of course I knew it was dangerous to go to the forest, but I had no choice. I had to provide food for my family. I was so afraid every time I went there. I would pray before going that nothing would happen to me and that I would return home safely. I was trained to deal with mines when I was soldier, so I know how dangerous they are.”
 
Koa’s wife was a Red Cross volunteer who died a year ago from a wound infection caused by a mine explosion. “She was injured behind our house. She stepped on a mine while working in the garden.”
 
In June last year Koa received an interest-free loan of $200 to buy four pigs (one adult female and three smaller males) and food and medicine for the animals. “I had some previous experience with raising pigs and knew how important it is to have a sow. She has already given birth twice. In the first litter she produced eight piglets, in the second 10. I managed to sell 13 piglets. I paid back the loan to the Cambodian Red Cross and still have five piglets and the same sow at home. This is much better than going to the forest. My sow will very soon breed again and I will be able to save some money to improve our farm. I no longer go to the forest because I have a lot of work to do at home.”

Reo Chhan's story

 “No interest is charged and mine accidents are prevented.”  

   
  ©ICRC / kh-e-00185.    
 
Chhork Roka. Red pannels indicate potential danger    
    Chhork Roka is a very small village just 100 meters off the main road that leads from Samloat district to the Thai border. The half-destroyed wooden bridge and narrow gravel path that run through the village are clearly marked with red “danger” signs. Most people in the village are migrants who arrived six or seven years ago, mainly from Pursat province. The village sprang to life about a month ago when 17 mine-clearance operators came to perform their tasks.

The family of Reo Chhan, 45 years old, is one of 40 in the village. Reo is a former soldier. His right foot was amputated in 1985 after he stepped on an anti-personnel mine.

   
  ©ICRC /kh-e-00186    
 
Reo Chhan and his wife work side by side    
    “I am still entitled to 90,000 riels ($22) in compensation from the army every month, but it always arrives lat e. I have not received any money from them for the last four months. We are farmers, but the small piece of land we have never yielded enough food. So I started collecting scrap metal from a camp once used by the Vietnamese in order to sell it to scrap dealers. My wife was afraid for me but there was no alternative. It was only after we received a loan from the Cambodian Red Cross that I stopped searching for scrap metal.”

Reo used the loan to buy raw materials and tools for making mats. “We chose this activity because we had some previous experience. We can produce four small mats a day and sell them for $1 each. But if we (my wife and I) work together we can finish a big mat in three days that we can sell immediately to a middleman for $15.”

Reo and his family have already repaid $150 of the $200 they were lent. “We plan to buy a buffalo next year because we can rent it to other people. The loan project is a success because no interest is charged and it prevents mine accidents.”