The United Nations Portfolio of Mine Action Projects

by Chad McCoull [ Center for International Stabilization and Recovery ]

In Xieng Khouang, Lao PDR, an all-female demining team assesses and clears unexploded ordnance-contaminated land. In Bogotá, Colombia, a team of practitioners nationalizes a plan to train local health personnel about the psychosocial needs of explosive-remnants-of-war victims. In Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, primary schoolchildren attend educational puppet shows about small-arms-and-light-weapons risks. At the heart of each initiative is a collaborative resource-mobilization system called the Portfolio of Mine Action Projects, and in 2010 it gives life to 277 projects in 27 countries.

Cover of the 2010 U.N. Portfolio of Mine Action Projects
Cover of the 2010 U.N. Portfolio of Mine Action Projects

The U.N. Portfolio of Mine Action Projects allows government agencies and nongovernmental and international organizations in the field to publicize their plans to deal with local mine-action issues and to seek financial assistance for these plans. The annual appeal also serves as a compendium of global mine-action accomplishments and as a catalog for potential donors to browse. In addition, it is a reference and capacity-building tool, providing a snapshot of global funding requirements, the status of countries’/territories’ strategies and whose submission process helps appealing agencies hone their skills in proposal writing and strategic planning.

Simply submitting a project to the Portfolio, however, rarely gets it funded. In reality, the politics of aligning voluntary donors' interests with those of the manifold field agents often involves complex negotiations. Routine communications between stakeholders are necessary to strategize the yearly process of approving, funding, facilitating and publicizing country projects.

The process begins when an appealing agency identifies an outstanding need for which it requires external funding. For example, DanChurchAid, operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, may lack the resources and personnel necessary to clear minefields in the Katanga province. The appealing agency must carefully articulate and submit a request to its respective Country Portfolio Coordinator who then liaises with the Portfolio Team at the U.N. headquarters. Getting indexed in the Portfolio requires that an appealing agency work with its implementing partners to formalize a detailed project proposal. In this example, DanChurchAid arranges for one implementing partner to provide mine-detection dogs and mechanical assets while another implementing partner conducts advocacy activities.

The U.N. Headquarters Portfolio Team—an interagency group of staff from United Nations Mine Action Service, United Nations Development Programme and UNICEF—vets the project proposals to ensure consistency and coherence with the stated requirements by the Country Portfolio Team. Finally, donor representatives select projects to fund, specifying budget timelines and accountability measures. Throughout the predetermined duration of project implementation, the applicant (in the above example, DanChurchAid) and its partners report progress to all relevant stakeholders. Once a year, the Portfolio Team publishes a new Portfolio online, refreshing the register of new requests and ongoing projects.

Thirteen Editions and Counting

Originally called the Portfolio of Mine-Related Projects in 1998, the Portfolio first arose from UNMAS’ imperative to appraise and monitor the global mine problem’s funding requirements. The first edition only acknowledged official U.N. programs, eight integrated mine-action programs and 10 countries’ proposed projects lists. During the first five years, increasing numbers of NGOs and national authorities began to participate, some even actively replacing U.N. officials as Country Portfolio Coordinators.1 Since its inception, the proposal process has evolved from a top-down approach to a decentralized approach in which field agencies chiefly assess needs and draft proposals. Today more than ever, the national strategies, priorities and coordinated processes of the 95 appealing agencies currently included in the Portfolio guide its content.

More recent in its history has been the 2007 debut of the invaluable Automated Portfolio System, which streamlines data submission and funds tracking and reporting in real time. The web-based AP System has been instrumental in accommodating ad hoc electronic updates and biannual progress reports. According to the Portfolio Team, such efforts promote greater local and national ownership of the Portfolio process and support capacity development in terms of outreach efforts, especially to donors.

Linking Mine Action with Development

Following the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, victim rates have receded, consequently enabling the global mine-action community to pay greater heed to issues of community development. Recent studies have proven the importance of linking mine action with development,2 and an increasing number of mine-action entities have begun aligning their efforts with the U.N. Millennium Development Goals3 and Development Assistance Frameworks.4

The Portfolio is a testament to this trend. According to the Portfolio Team, “The benefits of mine action are seldom singular. A road made passable reduces victims, but also promotes the return of displaced populations and stimulates trade.”5 With priorities shifting toward development-conscious mine action, the Portfolio has reflected a “more explicit elaboration of development aspects, where they may previously not have been highlighted.” In recent years, appealing agencies have increasingly partnered with development practitioners to attract the interest of progressive donors.

Matching Agencies with Donors

The track records of some appealing agencies show years of experience while others have only recently begun to grapple with mine-action issues. Despite such complexity, national authorities’ increasingly asserting their right to oversee their own countries’ multifarious activities has been encouraging for the United Nations and donors.

Some appealing agencies have held the misconception that by simply participating in the Portfolio, this will guarantee earning them funding from the international community. Programs that have not received funding in a particular year have thereafter withdrawn their proposals. While the Portfolio ultimately strives to connect the donor and implementer and serves as a reference tool for many donors, both parties must align regional and topical priorities before plans can be discussed. For this reason, not every project can receive funding. In 2010, for example, most projects did not receive funding. Out of the US$589 million requested for the combined projects, only $24 million was secured at the time of publication, amounting to a record shortfall of $565 million. In December 2009, UNMAS director Maxwell Kerley announced, “It is unlikely with our best efforts that funding would be attained, but it does not mean that the job won't get done—it will just take longer and more people will die.”6

The United Nations hypothesizes that some of the reasons for this shortfall include deficient reporting, the global economic downturn and new directions in donors’ earmarking decisions. In addition, while the Portfolio has expanded from 10 countries in 1998 to 27 countries in 2010, donor interest in the mine-action field has stagnated. Though global support for mine action has remained constant, forecasts from The Landmine Monitor Report7 indicate that donors may decrease funding in future years.8 To gain donor attention, the Portfolio Team recommends that appealing agencies respond by “recognizing the wider funding interests of traditional and non-traditional mine action donors and to partner with wider thematic and geographic funding sources.”5

Building upon Assets

Donors praise the Portfolio both for its utility as a reference tool and for its flexibility in expressing the dynamic needs of a particular community. Japan, one of the major donors, annually references the Portfolio to inform earmarking decisions. Donors also gain greater awareness of the plights of lesser publicized countries, such as Mauritania.

When stakeholders meet to solve a problem, assess local needs and strategize a plan of action, the Portfolio empowers these parties to communicate uniformly and globally. According to the U.N. Portfolio Team, Albania often cites the Portfolio as invaluable for coordinating partners and attracting funds. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, all national authorities, international agencies and NGOs found the Portfolio to be a useful means to coordinate activities. Amid Sudan’s civil war, the call to compile the Portfolio brought together stakeholders from both the North and South in confidence-building roundtables, long before the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.9

These success stories underscore the prospect that the Portfolio will continue to serve the mine-action sector as a permanent fixture. Currently, the Portfolio Team is reviewing inefficiencies and assets, listening to stakeholder feedback and improving objectives for the upcoming years. The 2011 Portfolio is expected to be delayed for some months as a result of this review. To learn more about the Portfolio of Mine Action Projects, visit http://www.mineaction.org/section.asp?s=projects. j

Acknowledgements

Information presented in this article was provided by the UNDP, UNICEF and UNMAS, members of the UN HQ Portfolio Team, interviewed in July and August 2010.5

Biography

Chad McCoullChad McCoull worked for The Journal of ERW and Mine Action from January 2007 until October 2010 as an Editorial Assistant. While attending James Madison University, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in technical communication and a Masters of Public Administration, specializing in international NGO management. In October 2010, McCoull began serving as a Small Business Development Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso, Africa.


Endnotes

  1. Country Portfolio Directors initially were solely U.N. officials, but some NGOs and national authorities have become more involved. Due to greater involvement in such mine action projects, these NGOs and countries have had leaders and experts of their agencies named as Country Portfolio Directors.
  2. “Overview.” Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining. http://www.gichd.org/operational-assistance-research/linking-mine-action-and-development/overview/. Accessed 7 October 2010.
  3. Millennium Development Goals. For more information: http://un.org/millennium. Accessed 1 October 2010.
  4. United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF). United Nations Development Group. For more information: http://undg.org/?p=232. Accessed 11 October 2010.
  5. E-mail from Gustavo Laurie, United Nations Mine Action Service, 9 August 2010, sent on behalf of the HQ Portfolio Team (UNMAS, UNDP and UNICEF).
  6. “Aid Policy: Money for mine action is hard to come by.” Integrated Regional Information Networks. http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=87325. Accessed 11 October 2010.
  7. Landmine & Cluster Munition Monitor. http://lm.icbl.org. Accessed 11 October 2010.
  8. In addition, the overall problem is diminishing because of effective mine-action efforts having been undertaken and an international normative framework being in place. However, this does not mean that funding flows should cease but that the focus can now be on finishing the job in more and more cases, with national authorities taking the lead, according to UNDP.
  9. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement Between the Government of The Republic of The Sudan and The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Sudan People’s Liberation Army. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or Naivasha Agreement, ended the Second Sudanese Civil War between the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement and the Government of Sudan. http://www.aec-sudan.org/docs/cpa/cpa-en.pdf. Accessed 11 October 2010.

Contact Information

Chad McCoull
Editorial Assistant
The Journal of ERW and Mine Action
Center for International Stabilizationand Recovery
James Madison University
E-mail: maic(at)jmu.edu

Gustavo Laurie
Acting Chief of Policy and Advocacy Support
United Nations Mine Action Service
380 Madison Avenue
M-11031B
New York, NY 10017 / USA
Tel: +1 212 963 3597
E-mail: laurie(at)un.org
Website: http://www.mineaction.org