Demining returns land back to the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina

deminer in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina's soil, even 20 years after the war, remains a major threat due the large number of unexploded mines. Photo: UNDP Bosnia and Herzegovina

The village of Ularice is especially picturesque in the spring time: beautiful houses with neat gardens. Yet the idyllic scenery is disrupted by torn down houses and walls filled with bullet holes. These visible scars of a war are a mere indication of a bigger danger lurking beneath the surface: hundreds of mines remain under the soil, threatening the lives of the locals.

Ivanka Šimunović watches as her husband and grandson leave to get firewood, crossing over what was once a mine field. “We experienced a lot of fear,” she explains. “Everything was mined. We were not able to go get firewood or work on our land.” She worried every time her grandson left the house.

Šimunović’s story is not an anomaly. The majority of mine fields in Bosnia and Herzegovina are near residential areas, making it very difficult for families who often depend on agriculture and cattle to make a living.

Since the war, 1,751 people have been injured by mines, resulting in 612 deaths, including 249 children. While conducting demining activities, 127 deminers were injured, 51 of whom lost their lives.

Highlights

  • 20 years after the war, mines remain a major threat to nearly 550,000 people across Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • Since the war, 1,751 people have been injured by mines, resulting in 612 deaths, including 249 children.
  • While conducting demining activities, 127 deminers were injured, 51 of whom lost their lives.
  • In the period 1996 – 2016, 3,109 km2 of land was returned to the population. Another 1,000 km2 remains to be cleaned and released from estimated 80,000 mines, cluster ammunition and explosive remnants of war.

The violent conflict in BiH displaced 4.2 million people – half of its pre-war population - internally and externally. Over 100,000 disappeared or were killed, and most of its infrastructure and economy was destroyed.

20 years later, the mines remain a major threat to nearly 550,000 people across the country. For those who depend on the land to make a living, it also represents lost economic potential. On a larger scale, mines impede the country’s development in a myriad of ways.

During the last two decades, more than 3,000 km2 of land has been freed from mines, but another 1,000 km2 of woods, meadows, and agricultural land are still suspected of contamination. To put that amount into perspective, mines cover a bigger amount of land than all parks and protected natural areas in the country.

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A new UNDP programme is now working to accelerate the demining process in a coordinated manner. “UNDP's goal is clear – a mine–free country,“ emphasizes Suad Baljak, UNDP’s Mine Action Officer. The project will run through 2020.

UNDP will assist the demining process through development of the country’s demining strategy, adoption of the required legislation, and improvement of communication and coordination between all actors involved in demining across the country.

Thanks to the land release method in demining, families like the Šimunovićs will be able to support their families through agriculture and cattle without crippling anxiety and fear.

 

UNDP and the rest of the UN system in BiH remain dedicated to offering assistance to Bosnia and Herzegovina in freeing its entire territory contaminated with mines and UXO's, in order to ensure security of its inhabitants and enable free movement and work.