35 years after it was founded in the Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand, Handicap International continues to support the most vulnerable Cambodians, including thousands of survivors of landmines and explosive remnants of war.
© A. Jacopucci / Handicap International
Handicap International’s work in Cambodia aims to reduce the onset of different types of disability, to improve access to quality health and rehabilitation services for people with disabilities, and to promote their social and economic independence.
Since 1979, more than 64,000 victims of mines and explosive remnants of war have been officially recorded, but the real figures are still unknown. Many of the survivors have disabilities and living conditions are not easy.
As early as 1987 Handicap International set up seven rehabilitation centres in the country to provide them with rehabilitation care and to fit them with prostheses. Today, the organisation continues to support provincial rehabilitation centres in Kampong Cham and Tbong Khmum to ensure they provide quality services and to ensure their sustainability. To this end, the organisation is training staff and improving the centres’ management systems. In Kampong Cham, more than 2,000 people with disabilities receive adapted assistive devices every year.
Handicap International also deploys vital projects to fight against landmines, cluster munitions, and explosive remnants of war in Cambodia. In 1992, the organisation was alarmed by the resurgence of mine accidents when around 375,000 Cambodian refugees returned to their homes. Disgusted by the lack of response, Handicap International committed to clearing the country of mines, making villagers aware of the dangers of mines and explosive remnants of war, and training Cambodian deminers. Between 1993 and 2011, Handicap International and the CMAC (Cambodian Mine Action Centre) demined 330 km² of land, representing two-thirds of the total surface area cleared in the country.
Handicap International's programme notably focuses on access to rehabilitation care and orthopaedic fitting, and the detection of disabilities in very young children. The organisation is also working to promote the professional inclusion of people with disabilities, to reduce poverty and social exclusion in a sustainable way. Finally, Handicap International is helping to limit the onset of disabilities by improving mother and child healthcare and road safety.
 64,314 victims were recorded between 1970 and the end of 2013. Source: Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, October 2014.
Infamous for its tragic history, Cambodia is considered to be one of the countries with the largest number of landmines in the world. It is also one of the poorest. Thanks to a period of relative stability, the country is re-launching its economic development.
Cambodia has been at peace since 1998 but remains marked by the legacy of almost 40 years of war and is still largely dependent on international aid. Nevertheless, the country is changing.
Since 1998 there has been a period of relative political stability and the country has benefited, although to a limited extent, from the region's economic miracle. A veritable, if fragile, development dynamic has seen living conditions improve for an increasing number of inhabitants. The population now has almost permanent access to electricity in large towns and increasingly in rural areas as well. Private and public building work is increasing. The vast majority of children go to school, and maternal and child mortality rates have dropped significantly.
Nevertheless, there is still much poverty and inequality. There is continued corruption and impunity for the richest members of society and numerous problems remain unresolved. The still-fragile economy generates little public revenue, which explains the continued weaknesses in the health and education systems.
The causes of disability are numerous and include disease, landmine accidents, and very commonly road accidents, as poor road safety is a major problem in Cambodia. People with disabilities, particularly children, constitute one of the most vulnerable groups in Cambodian society. Support for people with disabilities is not seen to be a priority by the Government, so international organisations remain the front line actors in the disability and rehabilitation sectors.
The problem of anti-personnel landmines, laid down in massive numbers over a period of almost 15 years, hinders the development of a country in which 80% of the population live in rural areas. It is estimated that there are several million mines in the country. Cambodia is considered to be one of the most heavily mine-polluted countries in the world, but is also the victim of another curse: cluster munitions. During the Vietnam war (1955-1975), the United States released over 26 million submunitions over the country. These bombardments left up to 5.8 million unexploded devices on the ground. In 2013, Cambodia estimated that at least 1,915 km² of its territory was still polluted by mines and explosive remnants of war. Demining the country will take many more years.