PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) –The United Nations adopted a sweeping set of targets aimed at improving the lives of the poor and protecting the environment over the next 15 years on Friday.
Called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they target issues like gender inequality, poverty, and climate change, and replace the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) that were introduced in 2000.
The process for creating the SDGs was more inclusive than the MDGs, which were drafted behind closed doors by high-ranking UN delegates.
While the MDGs mainly dealt with health, education and poverty in the world’s poorest nations, the SDGs deal with those topics but add other issues environmental, gender inequality, and access to clean water.
But one of the most pressing security issues in Cambodia, the landmines and unexploded ordnance that litter the countryside, did not make the list.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was in New York to discuss the new global goals over the weekend, raised the issue in an address to the UN summit on the new goals.
Economic development in Cambodia depends on clearing out the unexploded ordnance that still prevents farmers and developers from safely building in the countryside, he said.
He promised the government would continue to prioritize mine clearance as an unofficial SDG, even if it isn’t on the UN’s new list.
“Cambodia will include the clearance of mine and unexploded ordnances to be another goal in the SDGs,” he said.
Cambodia cannot achieve the other goals listed in the SDGs without first clearing the remaining mines, said Greg Crowther, the director of the Mine Advisory Group Cambodia.
Landmines continue to deter farmers in some of the country’s poorest provinces from cultivating land.
Many farmers attempt to demine their fields themselves, and mines continue to take lives and cause debilitating injuries.
Four people in Oddar Meanchey province were injured when their tractor ran over a landmine in March, and another man was badly injured when he ran over an anti-tank mine with a tiller in Banteay Meanchey in June.
The Cambodian Mine Action Authority estimates that there were 157 landmine casualties – both injuries and fatalities – in 2014 alone. According to MAG, there are 9,000 suspected mined areas in the country, many of them in the poorest provinces in western Cambodia.
“In those areas that still have heavy contamination, you do have a negative impact on the poorest and most marginalized communities in the country, those who live on the margins,” said Mr. Crowther. “Anything that limits their access to land, such as landmines, is a risk that they might fall back into poverty.”
Landmines make it more difficult for the country to accomplish the eighth SDG, which calls for sustainable economic growth. Cambodia’s attempts to improve infrastructure and modernize the road system (SDG number nine) is also hampered by landmines. “There have been a lot more [mine-related] accidents lately with increased traffic on side roads,” said Mr. Crowther.
Landmines were not part of the international MDGs in 2000 either, although Cambodia added demining as an unofficial ninth MDG. It is not uncommon for countries to add to the UN’s official development goals based on their unique circumstances. Analysts say that adding landmines to the SDGs signals Cambodia’s commitment to addressing the problem.
Signatories of the international Mine Ban Treaty have agreed to donate funds towards demining, and this foreign aid is an important source of funding for Cambodian demining efforts. Mr. Crowther said that Hun Sen’s addition of landmines to the list of SDGs will help draw donor dollars.
“A lot of donor governments want to see commitment from states in whatever issues they deal with. Putting it on the list should be taken as a sign that it takes it seriously, and still needs support,” he said.