Ridding the world of landmines

Every year landmines claim thousands of victims, often long after a conflict has been resolved. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs supports organisations involved in mine clearance, risk education and victim assistance. In this article we look at how these organisations help people resume their lives.

From 15 to 19 November 2021, the Netherlands hosted the annual UN conference on mine clearance (read also the interview with Rob Gabriëlse, Dutch Disarmament Ambassador). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs supports organisations working for a world free of mines. Here are five examples from practice.

Clearing the way for humanitarian aid

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) demines areas so that peacekeepers and troops bringing humanitarian aid can get to people in need.

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs), concealed in toys or plastic bags, are particularly dangerous. And landmines remain hidden in the ground after a conflict has ended, so that people cannot move around freely. The fear of landmines is deep-rooted. The longer an area remains contaminated with mines, the more this hurts the community’s economic development and recovery.

Since 1997, UNMAS has coordinated projects in many countries, including Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Colombia, Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, the Palestinian Territories, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Syria.

Enlarge image UNMAS Ontmijning
Image: ©UNMAS / Irina Punga
The UNMAS team during the #TetrisChallenge: you need all this equipment to clear mines.

Mine clearance enables peacekeepers to open up areas for humanitarian aid operations. UNMAS is now building local capacity – training people in mine-affected communities to detect and clear landmines. The organisation also provides risk education for people in the areas concerned and for displaced people returning voluntarily to areas still contaminated by mines. UNMAS also helps people who have become disabled due to an accident with an explosive.

Enlarge image UNMAS Afghanistan
Image: ©UNMAS / Cengiz Yar
Mohamed from Afghanistan was injured when a missile exploded next to him. He receives physiotherapy at a UNMAS physical rehabilitation centre.

Playing outside at last

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the HALO Trust have been working together in mine action programmes for more than 25 years.

Thanks to the HALO Trust’s mine action programme, thousands of Afghan children can at last play outside safely and, after more than fifty years, Palestinian landowners can plant olive trees again on their land. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs currently funds mine action projects in Afghanistan, the Palestinian Territories, Somalia and Ukraine.

Enlarge image HALO Trust Oekraine
Image: ©The HALO Trust
A HALO Trust staff member carries out a survey in Ukraine. The first step in clearing mines is determining levels of contamination.

Many Ukrainians fled their homes in the wake of the conflict in 2014. The presence of landmines, IEDs, missiles, hand grenades and other unexploded munitions made it impossible for them to return to their homes. Over the past few years, HALO Trust teams have cleared many explosives, and informed local people of the risks of landmines. The organisation also supported local authorities in setting up a national mine action centre. This has proved to be a highly successful project, because landmines are claiming far fewer victims. Nonetheless, 70 people were killed or injured in landmine accidents in 2020. For this reason, the ministry and HALO remain committed to ensuring safety and stability in East Ukraine.

Risk education to prevent accidents

The Mines Advisory Group (MAG) made an area in Lebanon mine-free, and is now focusing on risk education.

Supported by the ministry, MAG teams carried out demining operations in the south and northeast of Lebanon between 2016 and 2020. An area measuring 61km2 was contaminated with landmines and improvised mines. By the end of 2019, 20km2 had been cleared, freeing up 624,303m2 of land for local communities to use for farming. MAG also provided 4,511 Lebanese people with risk education and is training people to continue this work.

Enlarge image MAS Libanon
Image: ©Mines Advisory Group
The Mines Advisory Group demined 20km2 of land in Lebanon.

Between 2020 and 2024, MAG wants to clear another 609,000m2 of contaminated land. If it succeeds, more than 88,000 Lebanese people will benefit. At the same time, MAG wants to reduce the risk of injury and death by providing information on the risks of explosives.

Enlarge image MAG Libanon
Image: ©Mines Advisory Group
Children from south Lebanon watch a virtual reality film on the risks of mines.

A wise lesson in Syria

The Danish Refugee Council provides risk education to schoolchildren in Syria.

According to the 2021 Humanitarian Needs Overview, one in every three of the populated areas in Syria is probably contaminated with unexploded ordnance, with one in every two residents at risk. In 2020, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor registered at least 2,729 deaths and injuries due to landmines in Syria. Awareness of the threat is vitally important for all, not least for displaced populations and returnees. The Danish Refugee Council provides information on the risks of unexploded ordnance and landmines.

Enlarge image Danish Refugee Council
Image: ©Danish Refugee Council
A staff member of the Danish Refugee Council gives a mine risk class in Aleppo.

Picking up the thread

In countries like Iraq and Laos, Humanity & Inclusion provides prostheses for mine victims, so that they can resume their lives.

Long after an armed conflict has been resolved, landmines can make recovery difficult. Children have to take detours to get to school and women are at risk when they fetch water for their families. The presence of landmines close to roads causes mental stress. People are continually reminded of the period of conflict, and every day their friends and families are at risk.

Enlarge image Humanity & Inclusion Laos
Image: ©Humanity & Inclusion
In Laos, workers from Humanity & Inclusion provide information on mine risks.

Humanity & Inclusion has been working in 30 countries in southeast Asia and the Middle East, Africa and Latin America since 1982. The organisation does more than clear landmines. It helps survivors and their families pick up the thread again. Landmines don’t only cause physical injuries, they also lead to psychological traumas. People whose leg has been amputated are often stigmatised, making it difficult for them to return to a normal life. The organisation enables victims to resume their lives by fitting them with prostheses and helping them rehabilitate.