Cambodia's Most Dangerous Job?
Image Credit: CIAT

Cambodia's Most Dangerous Job?


Frustration grips Von Tha’s face as she fumbles with a hand that no longer works. Ron Run says that seeing his wife’s physical and mental struggle has, for him, been one of the hardest parts of the family’s ordeal. Two months since the explosion at a cassava plantation in Kratie, and the group of five are still feeling its effects. It’s a case that underscores the danger for workers at contaminated sites.

In Cambodia, companies and landowners can choose whether or not to clear areas used for commercial purposes such as agriculture, mining or ecotourism. With improved access to previously difficult to reach areas comes increased economic interest in utilising the land. Accidents on land used for enterprise illustrate the importance of ensuring known-risk areas are cleared of explosive remnants of war (ERW) before workers can enter the site and start tilling the soil.

Run explains that he, his wife Von Tha, brother-in-law Kith Ol and two nephews Ann Yong and Et En, arrived to work at the farm in Kratie’s Snoul District a few days before the March 17 accident. The family stood around a fire, cooking dinner after a long day in the fields, when flames suddenly engulfed the group. The explosion was caused when the heat detonated an explosive remnant. All five people needed medical treatment. Tha and her brother Ol were standing the closest and were critically injured. Run and his two nephews, Yong and En, were standing further back, but were still badly burnt and their skin was shredded by shrapnel.

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Jan Erik Støa, Norwegian People’s Aid Program Manager Mine Action Cambodia, says that regulations should be implemented to protect people from working on hazardous sites.

“There’s no legal obligation for the landowners to do anything,” he says. “What happens is that people start working and if there is an accident, there is no one to take responsibility. This is best addressed if you havea national law, like a law to use a helmet or to have registration on your vehicle.”

Placing regulations on clearance activities in known contaminated areas was recommended by Støa, who says that when land is being used for commercial purposes, it should be mandatory to conduct clearance using an approved operator. Then, if there is an accident, the land owner or developer responsible for the clearance would have to compensate victims of ERW in the work place. At the moment, there’s no protection for workers or a policy for ensuring that they are paid damages.

In addition to coping with serious personal loss and physical trauma, accident victims are put in debt at precisely the time they have no income. This is especially problematic for people who are living at subsistence level, like Run and his family. Run commented that the couple would make a combined total of $7.50 each day at the plantation. The cost of one hospital bed per night was almost as much as their daily combined income. Tha’s medical bill was around $500. Gratefully, he says that two charities stepped in to cover these expenses. Run borrowed an additional $375 from a friend, for food and living costs while they were unable to work and said he will do his best to repay this debt.

“It’s hard for me. I worry about my wife. Before the accident Tha could move normally. Now she cries a lot about things she can no longer do. She still cannot move her hand and this is very upsetting for her,” Run reflects. “Making life harder is the fact we owe money. Everything is difficult at the moment.”

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