Apopo, the organisation which uses trained rats to detect landmines under a partnership with Cambodian Mine Action Centre, has committed to help make Cambodia mine-free by 2025.
Michael Heiman, programme manager of Apopo Cambodia, said yesterday that to date Apopo and CMAC have used rats to help clear over 7.5 million square metres of landmine areas in Cambodia since the start of operations in 2016.
Currently the rats are being deployed in the most mine-affected provinces in the Kingdom such as northern Siem Reap, Preah Vihear and Battambang.
“Rural people are taking risks by using of land that they suspect of having landmines because they have no choice. Most of them use land for agricultural purposes to support their livelihoods,” Heiman said.
So far, Apopo and CMAC have handed over cleared land to about 29,000 people across the country, for them to continue farming safely.
In a bid to support the humanitarian activities in Cambodia, PPCBank yesterday donated $6,000 to Apopo for their landmine clearance project in Siem Reap province.
Speaking at the donation ceremony, PPCBank president Shin Chang Moo said that it is sad to see many people in Cambodia still killed and injured by landmines despite the war ending 30 years ago.
“It’s mind-blowing to realise that there are still many people in Cambodia who have to give up their homes out of fear of stepping on mines while walking, farming, or even going to school,” he said.
Shin said he believes that Apopo will provide mine clearance services efficiently, ensuring that Cambodians can live on landmine-free land in the near future. The money provided to Apopo by PPCBank for the first time will be used to pay for food, rat handlers’ salaries, small handling equipment and costs related to the rat’s health and welfare.
Heiman stressed that the private sector’s support for a humanitarian landmine clearance project is crucial to speeding up demining action.
He said: “PPCBank’s donation enables us to clear land up to 24,000 square metres, the size of two football fields, in Siem Reap province.”
Apopo currently has 86 employees with 43 rats. By the end of this year, another 20 rats will be brought to Cambodia from Africa to boost mine detection in the Kingdom as Apopo plans to expand operations in Oddar Meanchey province next year.
According to Heiman, African giant pouched rats trained to search for mines cost around $7,095 each and one can search for landmines on up to 400 square metres a day.
Chop Sohom, a female rat handler at Apopo in Siem Reap, said: “At first, I was scared to work with rats to search for landmines. But when I trained with them for a short time, it dawned on me that rats are really smart and easy to work with and they can actually find landmines.”
The 25-year-old said she was happy to be involved in demining with Apopo, even though she had no previous experience. She said during almost two years of working with Apopo, she helped clear mines from the communities in which she lived, and also improved her family’s livelihood.