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20 years of mine action progress, but not yet in the clear

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deminers in Bosnia Deminers at work in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo: UNDP Bosnia and Herzegovina

My earliest personal encounter with landmines occurred in Mozambique in 1994, shortly after its brutal 17-year civil war came to end. I was conducting research in a remote district of Tete Province, close to the Malawi border, to learn how communities remaining in the country coped with the daily threats of violence and deprivation. The war created 2 million refugees and 5 million internally displaced persons.  With the peace agreement holding, people slowly returned home to begin the difficult work of rebuilding their lives. 

But they were greeted by an estimated 2 million landmines. 

I travelled many of same routes as the returnees and often wondered about the presence of mines, but lacking awareness, I didn’t alter my routine or attitude to the risks. After an accident involving a truck in a WFP convoy that struck an anti-vehicle mine close to a food distribution point, I realized the risks. I too had travelled this same road to observe the return of refugees and the humanitarian response being provided by the UN.    

The thousands of mine related deaths and accidents experienced in Mozambique would add impetus to a call for an international ban on landmines. In 1999, Maputo hosted the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention and in 2015, the country declared itself mine-free. This was truly an amazing achievement accomplished through the determination of the government, partnerships with the international community, and particularly the deminers. 

Although Mozambique declared itself free of landmines in 2015, the deadly legacy of landmines remains for millions of people around the world.

More than 20-years after the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina ended, there still are approximately 300 km2 of suspected hazardous territory blocking rural development, forestry, and tourism. This affects over 1000 communities. When devastating floods hit in 2014 and large numbers of mines were swept away, the disaster response was significantly hampered by their presence

In Croatia, much progress has been made in removing direct threats to people, however over 400 km2 remain to be released. Much of this area impinges on forest and water-ecosystem management initiatives needed to secure water resources and natural disaster preparedness. And in Turkey, the government is clearing over 170 km2 in the east of the country. The humanitarian and local economic impact in the area bordering Syria has been significant, as most of the minefields are found on scarce land used for agriculture and herding.

April 4th is the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action

This year represents a special opportunity to celebrate the impressive results in removing landmines and other explosive remnants of war from the lives of millions of people forced to live with these hidden killers in their midst. This year marks the 20th year since the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention was opened for signature and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines won the Nobel Peace Prize for its groundbreaking work. The Convention has been an extremely effective instrument of international law, diplomacy, and partnership and today has 162 states parties. 

Almost 50 million stockpiled mines have been destroyed, tens of thousands more removed from the soil, hundreds of kilometers of land released for productive use, and the global production of landmines halted. 

Here at UNDP, we work with countries around the world to build national capacities to complete the arduous task of mine clearance. Thinking back to Mozambique, I am reminded how much can be achieved, yet how much remains to be done, in a world that the drafters of the Convention could not have imagined.   

Blog post Communities and local development Development and mine action Development planning and monitoring Capacity development Crisis response Europe & the CIS Bosnia and Herzegovina Croatia Mozambique