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News, 4/4/2017

Mines injure thousands of civilians each year

Mines and other explosive remnants of war kill and injure civilians in their everyday activities long after conflicts have ended. Eighty per cent of the annual casualties of landmines are civilians, of whom up to 40% are children.

A deminer funded by Finland clearing a minefield in Khanabad, northern Afghanistan, for livestock grazing and wheat production. Photo: The HALO Trust
A deminer funded by Finland clearing a minefield in Khanabad, northern Afghanistan, for livestock grazing and wheat production. Photo: The HALO Trust

The United Nations’ International Day for Mine Awareness is observed on 4 April. The purpose of the day is to call attention to threats posed by mines and explosive remnants of war, which present a danger in 64 countries. On top of being a serious safety risk, they are also an impediment to social and economic development as well as peace and stability.

Mines hamper the delivery of humanitarian assistance and they also impede the movement of peacekeepers. Mines prevent the rehabitation of land, construction, farming and pasturing and passage to schools, hospitals and marketplaces. In Syria and Iraq the terrorist organisation ISIL, following its territorial losses, has booby-trapped, among other things, homes and gardens owned by civilians returning to the area in addition to public buildings.

Finland supports humanitarian mine action in fragile states

Since the 1990s Finland has supported humanitarian mine action. During 2016-2020 Finland supports humanitarian mine action in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Ukraine with EUR 12 million.

To reduce the risk to children from mines and ammunition, HALO provides risk education lessons across Afghanistan. Photo: The HALO Trust
To reduce the risk to children from mines and ammunition, HALO provides risk education lessons across Afghanistan. Photo: The HALO Trust

Finland’s support is channelled through UN agencies, the Red Cross and NGOs. In addition to mine action the financing also supports, among other things, mine risk education, victim assistance, building local mine action capacity and improving coordination.

International Conventions have reduced global mine stockpiles

Humanitarian mine action is based on the obligations of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, i.e. the Ottawa Convention. Although Finland acceded to the Convention in 2012, it had contributed to humanitarian mine action long before this.

With funding from Finland, HALO has been able to safely destroy over 52 000 items of ammunition like these, found and cleared in Killagai, Baghlan province. Photo: The HALO Trust
With funding from Finland, HALO has been able to safely destroy over 52 000 items of ammunition like these, found and cleared in Killagai, Baghlan province. Photo: The HALO Trust

International treaties have attempted to control and reduce the use of mines and explosives internationally. As a result, the number of mine casualties is now significantly lower. In 2015, however, the number of casualties began to rise alarmingly. The increase was due to more casualties recorded in armed conflicts in Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen. It also reflects the increase of casualties by improvised explosive devices.

Afghanistan: significant improvement but also an alarming rise in the number of casualties

Nevertheless, each year the most casualties caused by landmines are in Afghanistan. The country is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. Mines have been cleared in Afghanistan for a long time with remarkable success: 80% of the recorded minefields have been cleared. Still, there is plenty of work ahead. What is more, in Afghanistan the number of casualties caused by landmines is on the rise while international financing to mine action is on the decline.

Afghanistan aims to clear all landmines by 2023. Finland has supported mine action in Afghanistan since 1991, in recent years by financing the projects of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and the HALO Trust.

UNMAS supports the Government of Afghanistan’s Department of Mine Action Coordination, which is responsible of implementing the national mine action strategy. The HALO Trust, in turn, clears mines in those areas of Afghanistan where the effects of landmines and explosive remnants of war are the greatest. The goal of the project is to save lives and prevent casualties. The project also stimulates local employment. Through Finnish financing HALO provides employment to approximately 70–140 local people and, through demining from 2017–2020, it will reclaim altogether 298 hectares of land for productive use: for living, agriculture, pastoral land and safe roads.

Hanna Ojanperä

The author is a desk officer at the Unit for Arms Control responsible for issues related to conventional weapons.

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