Cambodia map:
CMAC, HALO Trust, and MAG
Mar 11, 2004

Cambodian Mine and UXO map

Mines Billboard

Movie #1

Movie #2

I came back to Cambodia with the specific purpose of researching the de-mining NGOs of Cambodia and photographing HALO Trust in the field. 

There are 3 de-mining NGOs in Cambodia.  CMAC is the de-mining NGO in Cambodia.  CMAC began as a part of the UN operations and then split off an became its own entity when the UN left Cambodia.  HALO Trust and MAG are both international organizations based out of the UK. 

I was unimpressed and a little depressed with what I learned from my research.

Let me start with a quote from page one of CMAC's annual report:

    "In today's mine action effort, it becomes harder and harder to satisfy donors, partners and the local community.  They are very well informed, more concerned with cost effectiveness, politically conscious, more demanding and less forgiving."

Read the quote again - but this time with the understanding that what they're avoiding saying is:  "We fired our last director because he was corrupt as hell." 

Firing him, I suppose will be a step in the right direction.  Unfortunately, the real problem isn't the director stealing money, but the rate in which these NGOs clean mines.

Richard from HALO Trust refused to give me any data, with the excuse that numbers can easily misrepresented.  This is true from either side.  The NGOs love quoting the number square meters they cleared because it is a huge number.

Last year, CMAC cleared 11,582,239 square meters.

That sounds very impressive.  But the statistic becomes much less impressive when you realize that 11.5 million square meters is only 11.5 square kilometers (only 4.4 square miles).  You add in the size of Cambodia, and the statistic goes from impressive sounding to downright depressing. 

Last year, CMAC cleared 11.5 of 180,000 square kilometers.  (4.4 of 69,192 square miles).

CMAC removed 33,000 mines last year.  There are an estimated 6,000,000 still in the ground.  At that rate, CMAC could clear all the mines in Cambodia in mere 200 years. 

No where in CMACs annual report could I find their total number of employees.  Instead I'll have to do some analysis by team.  CMAC team 2 is sponsored by Japan.  They do as good as anyone in the de-mining business:

    Annual budget:  $800,000
    Team Member:  222
    Land cleared:  1 sq.  km (.38 sq.  miles)
    Anti-personnel mines cleared:  2800
    Anti-tank mines cleared:  63
    IEMs (whatever that is) cleared:  1
    Unexploded ordinance cleared:  5361
    Total explosive devices cleared:  8225

I realize that my math here is going to misrepresent things a bit, but these numbers are fact.  Some quick division shows that on average, each team member removed an explosive device every 10 days.

CMAC team 1, sponsored by the Netherlands they did far worse:

    Annual budget:  $800,000
    Team Member:  212
    Land cleared:  1.1 sq.  km (.42 sq.  miles)
    Anti-personnel mines cleared:  1170
    Anti-tank mines cleared:  33
    Unexploded ordinance cleared:  240
    Fragments cleared:  2,368,741
    Total explosive devices cleared:  1443

On average each team member removed one explosive device every 2 months! 

No matter how much the division skews the data, there is a problem here.  Perhaps they wasted the entire year diligently picking up and counting 2,368,741 little pieces of metal.

I've been picking on CMAC, but all the NGOs are clearing mines with near criminal slowness.  CMAC simply gave me the best annual report to quote figures from.  MAGs results are equally depressing - Each person removed 1 mine every 3 weeks.  HALO, I have to assume is as bad, if not worse than the other NGOs, since they refused to give me any documentation.

It shocks me, but apparently one explosive device removed every 10 days per person is not only accepted, but considered good in this industry.  The NGO have an emphasis on safety - as they should.  But there has to be some balance.  As the NGOs removes land mines at a snails pace people are dying.  And at the rate that they are clearing mines the Cambodian people will never be free of the danger.

I know that it is possible to remove mines faster.  I witnessed 3 guys armed only with shovels walk into a minefield and walk out with 15 cleared and disarmed mines.  There technique is not completely safe, but if HALO Trust's 1000 de-miners could clear at that rate they would clear almost 2 million mines a year.  Cambodia would be free of mines within two years rather than two centuries. 

If anyone has ideas on who to contact, or how to encourage de-mining NGOs to revise their tactics let me know.  I'd be interested in discussing it.

Based on what I learned from CMAC and MAGs annual reports, I was longer particularly motivated to see HALO Trust in the field.  I have a good idea of what they do, and how they work.  For each de-miner there are a whole stack of people sitting around doing nothing:  a driver, a medic, two guys to cut underbrush, and two more guys whose jobs I can no longer remember.  They wave their metal detector around and move extraordinarily slowly. 

I decided to call him anyways because, if nothing else, a visit to Anlong Veng (the city that was Khmer Rouge capital) should prove interesting.  On the phone, he is surprisingly friendly.  He tells me that "The de-miners have left for this week and next week they are standing down."  I'm a master at corporate speaking, but don't know military-speak.  Does "standing down" mean they are going on vacation?

This phone call to Richard seems to be a perfect end to this story.  Going on vacation - that might explain why they get nothing done.

Landmine Mapper - Jul 25, 2004

"standing down" means that the deminers are on a week leave to return home to families from remote locations after working 3 weeks non-stop.

You're right it's too darn slow and expensive....

let's hear your ideas about speeding up clearance...

Would you like to volunteer to lead the "three guys with shovels" brigade?

Landmine Mapper - Jul 25, 2004

by the way you are also correct when you say: 
"it seems like insanity"

almost half the accidents here are because somebody is doing something insane like hitting the ground with a shovel (or trying to crack open a mortar shell with a hammer) Not everybody is as experienced (and lucky) as enough of that stuff and pretty soon your luck runs out... 


I'll stick with my comments that the math doesn't seem to add up:

"It shocks me, but apparently one explosive device removed every 10 days per person is not only accepted, but considered good in this industry." 


Chris - Jan 23, 2007

I see that this is dated but I had to reply.  Let me just say that you're way off-on most things.  I am a professional in the field of demining and have worked with all the organizations named above including about 30 other organizations throughout the globe.  To make a long story short let me list my complaints:

-CMAC is very corrupt and the worst demining organization in Cambodia, ask anyone who really knows what they're talking about.
-HALO is the best in the world, hands down.  They do not clear 1 mine/operator every two months, that's ridiculous.  Keep in mind they have to clear EVERY piece of ground with a metal detector and its not as simple as "waving their metal detector around and moving extraordinarily slow."
-The guys you saw with the shovels are idiots and will get themselves blown up.  Do your research and find out how many people out of the roughly 250 that get hit a year are in areas they know to be mined and are doing something stupid like farming mines. 
-You said the following about HALO, "NGOs love quoting the number square meters they cleared because it is a huge number."  If anything they are very modest.  I do not work for HALO and do not have a strong affiliation with them, I just know how good they are and you are making assumptions which are ridiculous. 
-Your numbers are way off.  I am privvy to the numbers and you have no idea. 
-Had to quote this one, "Perhaps they wasted the entire year diligently picking up and counting 2,368,741 little pieces of metal."  You go out there, find a piece of metal with a metal detector, and then decide whether to walk on it or not.  You don't know if its a mine or not so every piece needs to be carefully excavated. 

There is so much more I'd like to rant and rave about, please forgive me if this sounds harsh.  It's something that happens in the community quite a bit and it does bother me.  People uneducated in landmine clearance telling us how to do our jobs when they have no idea what they're talking about.  I definetely wouldn't criticize you about computer programming and it assume it was as easy as typing on a keyboard and I don't believe you should do the same about demining.  Ask how many people out there who would clear landmines for US $5 a day.  Yeah, that's about what the Khmers get.  I recommend you start by looking at the "international mine action standards."  Google it, it will give you a lot of insight and other links and then, after you've researched and possibly requested a site visit with a demining organization I believe you'll have a different outlook on it. 


Golf - Mar 15, 2007


This article could have received an avalanche of negative response, but hasn't.  The reason I believe it hasn't is because it is so far from reasonable that most people cannot be bothered having a battle of wits with someone who came only half-armed to the fight. 

Your analysis is shallow and devoid of the reality which would inform the reader as to why clearance is so frustratingly slow.  There are good reasons for it after all, like ensuring the deminers are alive to do more clearance tomorrow, and that when the land is handed over to local beneficiaries they can work all over it without fear of a residual threat.  In other words, its done properly and safely.  I find your arguments emotional and cheap.  Having worked closely in co-operation with the Halo Trust and CMAC, and knowing both organisations and their oeprations very well, I can tell you that the HALO Trust, so much maligned in your article, is head and shoulders the most professional organisation in this game in Cambodia.  Like CJ I also do not work for them.  I never have. 

Had you conducted some remotely professional research into the sector in Cambodia you would have answered the insulting questions you have posed.  Mine Mapper and CJ have done this for you because they actually know what is going on and why.  Yes, the deminers stand down, have a week off every month, after they work 3 weeks straight.  That means no days off, continuous operations.  I wonder how you would go at that?  And on the poultry sum they earn. 

Like CJ, I could really carry on at length in response to your uneducated observations, but fear there is little point.  Someone who can not only come up with this, but put it out in the public domain with such confidence that he has the facts, is beyond help.

Have a proper look next time you get a chance, you will come away with a different perspective.

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