2008, A Year of Advances and Accomplishments

by Johanna García García and Erika Estrada Chau [ Organization of American States ]

Since 1990, the Organization of American States’ national demining assistance programs have been working to educate citizens about landmines and eliminate existing minefields in Nicaragua. The OAS Acción Integral contra las Minas Antipersonal program has successfully worked to coordinate with the Ministry of Education, local representatives, community leaders and volunteers to promote awareness about landmines, protect people from further injuries and provide rehabilitation for survivors.

The origin of today’s Organization of American States’ humanitarian demining assistance program dates to Nicaragua’s request for assistance in 1990. Since the establishment of the program, several countries in the region completed their respective national demining plans: Costa Rica in 2002, Honduras in 2004, and Guatemala and Suriname in 2005. Earlier this decade, the program extended its assistance throughout the Americas as it supported South American countries in complying with certain requirements of the Ottawa Convention.1

As 2009 begins, Nicaragua remains the last mine-affected country in Central America. The mine problem in Nicaragua stems from the internal armed conflict that took place during the 1980s, leaving 13 of the country’s 15 departments,2 and both of its autonomous regions, contaminated by landmines.3 Some 284 communities throughout the country were determined to be located within one kilometer (0.62 miles) of mined areas.

At the conclusion of the armed conflict, the Nicaraguan Army registries recorded 115,851 mines throughout the territory. Since demining efforts began in 1990, additional minefields have been identified, and the most recent estimate of the number of landmines in Nicaragua is set at 178,751, distributed among 1,018 mined areas. Over the years, these mines have been responsible for causing injury to more than 1,200 Nicaraguans and the death of hundreds.

The impact of anti-personnel mines in Nicaragua affected the security of the population and transcended into areas that limit the economic well-being of the population. Aspects such as safety and movement within communities were presented as the most serious consequence of anti-personnel mines. Access to communities, transportation, health, education, water and electric energy were also affected. Humanitarian demining efforts in Nicaragua have positively affected these aspects, which are relevant for the economic development of affected communities.

Following more than 16 years of effort on the part of the Nicaraguan government, the AP mine problem is now contained to the departments of Nueva Segovia and Jinotega. When clearance operations resumed in January 2009, 20 minefields remained to be cleared in accordance with the National Plan.

Accomplishments

The achievements obtained to date in Nicaragua, with the support of the OAS program, reached more than 96 percent of projections in the national demining plan. The completion of humanitarian-demining operations is projected for the end of 2009, providing there is a continuous financial support by the international community. From January 2008–December 2008, several accomplishments were made. They are discussed below.

Humanitarian demining. The OAS program assists the government of Nicaragua in the execution and administration of its national demining plan by providing specialized equipment, administrative and logistic support, training for national personnel, technical advice and international monitoring. It also oversees the Information Management System for Mine Action database for Nicaragua. The collection and analysis of data by the national offices has taken on an increasingly important role in each of the programs regarding recording and tracking data on landmine victims; on suspected, confirmed and cleared minefields; and on areas where mine-risk education campaigns are conducted.

From January 2008–December 2008, with AICMA assistance, there were important accomplishments that reduced the threat posed by the presence of anti-personnel landmines in Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan Army reported the destruction and certification of 11,856 mines and explosive remnants of war in 206,507 square meters (51 acres), thereby bringing the total number of anti-personnel mines destroyed or certified through clearance operations to 171,530 by December 2008.


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Table 1: Humanitarian-demining operations, January-December 2008.

Mine-risk education. MRE campaigns are designed after considering several elements:

The methodology includes school visits, radio campaigns and house-to-house visits. Portable posters are used as the main instructional material, supplemented by distribution of school materials such as pens, pencils, notebooks and backpacks.

The objective of mine-risk awareness and mine-risk education campaigns supported by the OAS–AICMA program is to reduce risk of injury or death by promoting safe behaviors and to correct risky practices seen among some in the communities. Mine-risk education campaigns for civilian populations were strengthened by frequent visits to affected communities and by the variety of national radio messages and school programs developed.


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Table 2: Many individuals in León and Matagalpa received the message through the munitions-destruction program.

Victim Assistance. The AICMA program coordinates and pays for transportation, lodging, meals, medicines, surgery, physical and psychological therapy, and specialized medical attention for survivors of accidents from mines or explosive remnants of war. In similar fashion, the program provides for follow-up, and coordinates physical rehabilitation and transportation to and from survivors’ homes. Additionally, AICMA coordinates with Instituto Nacional Tecnológico (INATEC) to support landmine survivors as they establish micro-enterprises. AICMA identifies survivors, coordinates their transportation and counsels on the appropriateness of each small enterprise.


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Table 3: The number of survivors has aided through the OAS program services have greatly increased since 1997.

AICMA has provided assistance to more than 1,100 landmine survivors since the program was established in 1997 with the support of the Swedish government. From its beginning, the program has sought to provide the basic services mentioned above to enable the victims to reach and stay at the centers so they can avail themselves of these services. In collaboration with INATEC, the OAS–AICMA program initiated an innovative training and job placement program for survivors in Nicaragua. Landmine survivors have a wide choice of training according to their aptitude, ranging from auto mechanics, carpentry, sewing, shoe repair and farming to cosmetology and word processing. AICMA also coordinates with INATEC to support landmine survivors as they establish micro enterprises. AICMA identifies survivors, coordinates their transportation, and counsels on the appropriateness of each small enterprise.


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Table 4: Through INATEC, the OAS program assists participating survivors as they choose from 27 different training courses.

Destruction of obsolete munitions. One of the latest components of the AICMA program is destruction of excess, expired or obsolete munitions. In Nicaragua, as result of the armed conflict during the 1980s, great quantities of obsolete munitions remain stored in military facilities. Some facilities are near civilian populations, posing a threat for the communities as well as for the military personnel in charge of keeping the munitions. To assist Nicaraguans in resolving this problem, the OAS–AICMA program implemented two phases of a munitions-destruction plan. Canada, Italy and the United States provided funding, and the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation delivered technical support. The results of the first two phases are listed in the following table:


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Table 5: Excess munitions from four storage sites were destroyed at the Nicaraguan Army’s firing range complex at Papalonal, Leon department.

Conclusion

The OAS mine-action assistance program in Nicaragua made steady and significant advancements during 2008. The partnership with the national authorities, including the Nicaraguan Army and its Corps of Engineers, has brought the overall effort to within sight of its conclusion in 2009. The accomplishments in Nicaragua in all mine-action areas are, undoubtedly, results of different factors—among these, the will of the national authorities, the commitment of the international donor community and the participation of the Organization of American States.

Biographies

Johanna García García was born in Managua, Nicaragua. She graduated with a degree in engineering in information systems from the Nicaraguan Catholic University. She has been involved with mine action since 2002. She currently serves as a Database Administrator Assistant for the OAS Mine Action Program in Central America.


Erika Estrada Chau was born in Jinotepe, Carazo, Nicaragua. She graduated with a degree in computer science from the Nicaraguan Autonomous University. She has been involved with mine action since 2000. She currently serves as a Database Administrator for the OAS Mine Action Program in Central America.


Endnotes

  1. Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, Oslo, Norway. 18 September 1997. http://www.un.org/Depts/mine/UNDocs/ban_trty.htm. Accessed 28 January 2009. The document was opened for signature in Ottawa, Canada, 3 December 1997, and thus is commonly known as the Ottawa Convention.
  2. Departments are subdivided portions of a country, much like a state, province, or county, that were set up by the country's government. They are sometimes overseen by semiautonomous governing bodies.
  3. OAS Mine Action Database. Managua, Nicaragua.

Contact Information

Johanna García García
AICMA Database Administrator Assistant
PADCA-OEA
Programa de Asistencia al Desminado
De la Iglesia El Carmen 1c. abajo
Reparto El Carmen
Managua / Nicaragua
Tel: +1 505 22665818
E-mail: lekavenus@hotmail.com