Issue 6.1, April 2002


The Role of the United Nations in Mine Action
An Interview with Ian Mansfield


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Ian Mansfield of the United Nations Development Programme talks candidly about the various mine action offices in the UN, how the UN organizes mine action, the role of host governments, donors, and the successes and challenges of coordinating integrated mine action activities with infrastructure development and capacity building.

by Margaret Busé, Editor

Ian Mansfield (IM): Mine action is relatively new for the United Nations; the whole sector is just over 10 years old. The first time the UN ever became involved with humanitarian demining was in 1988 in Afghanistan. Landmines were a big problem at the time the Soviets pulled out, and with 3 million refugees in Pakistan and 2 million in Iran, the UN recognized that this could lead to a great humanitarian tragedy once the refugees started to return. So, in October 1988, the UN launched an appeal for assistance to Afghanistan, and the appeal included an allowance for humanitarian demining. The UN also looked around for implementing partners, which is how we normally conduct projects, but there weren’t any NGOs working in demining in Afghanistan at the time, so we decided to set up a local program. The first strategy of that was to train hundreds of Afghan men, to clear up their own villages, but that didn’t work because for various reasons, and the refugees ended up not returning en masse anyway. Based on this early experience we had in Afghanistan, we realized that there was a need for demining, as it was called then, to be done on a more controlled and organized basis.

Margaret Busé (MB): Where did you look for your technical capabilities for that project?

IM: In the early days, it was mostly military or ex-military personnel. Countries like the US, Canada, Australia – about seven countries in total, provided military experts to train the Afghans. After we realized though, that it could be done on a more structured basis, the UN oversaw the creation of a number of Afghan NGOs. This was very successful and today they now employ around 5000 people. One or two international demining organizations also got their start in Afghanistan around that time

MB: What was your role?

IM: I was the UN Programme Manager for the Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan from late 1991 until the end of 1995. Martin Barber (now the Chief of UNMAS) was also there at the time with the overall UN coordinating body.

MB: What was the next milestone for mine action?

IM: The next big event for the landmine issue was the Gulf War. The UN wasn’t involved in demining activities in Kuwait, but the war really brought landmines and UXO to the world’s attention. The way Kuwait dealt with the mines was interesting. They had lots of money, so they let commercial demining contracts worth about $700 million (US). Within two or three years, the mines were cleared. That just goes to show that a landmine problem can be solved, if you’ve got the money and the resources; it’s not mission impossible. However – this situation obviously isn’t typical, because most of the countries that are mined are poor, so there have to be other ways to deal with the issue.

The next time the UN got involved in mine action was in Cambodia. After the UNTAC peacekeeping mission finished in 1993, the UNDP was asked to continue providing assistance. We helped to set up the Cambodian Mine Action Centre, which is now one of the largest national institutions. Since then, it’s just grown. Mozambique, Angola, Bosnia and so on, and even more countries since the Ottawa Treaty was signed, have all asked the UN for assistance with mine action.

MB: There are many UN agencies and departments with an interest in mine action. Who does what?

IM: In fact 11 Departments or Agencies have some responsibility, which just shows the breadth of the mine action issue – political, disarmament, operations, public health, education, capacity building and so on. The primary department is Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) through a special office they established called the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS). That came about in September 1998, after a few years of split responsibilities between DPKO and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA). At that time, the Secretary-General issued a new policy stating who did what in mine action in the UN, and DPKO became the focal point. OCHA still plays a role, especially in humanitarian issues, and interestingly – historically, they have been the department in charge of activities in Afghanistan. That’s in the process of changing over at the moment though.

At the same organizational level as DPKO, you have the Department of Political Affairs, which doesn’t have a stated role in the policy, but stills plays an important role when it comes to dealing with landmines in peace treaties being negotiated within the UN system. The most recent example of that was with Eritrea and Ethiopia, where there were allowances that both sides would provide information on minefields. That requirement is becoming more and more important. The Dayton Peace Accords in Bosnia for example – which wasn’t a UN treaty – said that all mines would be cleared in 30 days. I’d like to meet the person who wrote that, because that was never going to be possible.

Then there’s the Department for Disarmament Affairs (DDA), who obviously deal with disarmament issues and are the repository for the Ottawa Treaty – which was lodged with the UN in 1999. They arrange the annual review meeting and countries that have signed the Treaty submit their annual Article 7 reports to them.

That’s the headquarters, policy level. However most, of the UN mine action projects around the world are carried out on a day-to-day level by agencies like UNMAS, UNDP, UNICEF and UNOPS.

MB: Who’s responsible for what at that level?

IM: As I mentioned, UNMAS was created within the DPKO to be the primary focal point for all mine action activity within the UN system. They coordinate the work of all the other agencies involved and have primary responsibility for policy issues. They also manage the Voluntary Trust Fund. Practically speaking, they also deal with emergency mine action responses usually linked to peacekeeping missions – they were the first ones out in places like Kosovo, Southern Lebanon, and the TSZ between Ethiopia and Eritrea. They also organize assessment missions to countries. Colombia and Mauritania, for example, have both recently asked the UN for assistance, so UNMAS is putting together a team from the different agencies to assess what needs to be done. Another significant thing UNMAS has done is to develop (in conjunction with the GICHD) the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS).

UNICEF is responsible for mine awareness, or mine risk reduction education as it is now called, and advocacy programmes. This seemed to lead on naturally from their child education and protection programmes.

Other agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO), World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also get involved in mine action, as it relates to their various mandates. The WFP for example, paid to have roads cleared in Angola so they could deliver food and UNHCR have funded the clearance of houses in Bosnia so that refugees could return.

Finally, there’s UNDP – who I work for. We do capacity building in mine affected countries. At the moment, we’re helping 16 different countries with various types of programmes. The way we work is a little different to UNMAS. We don’t really run the show as such, but rather assist the government and the community to implement programmes. In Cambodia, for example, we assist the government there with funding, training and we also provide technical advisors. What we’re trying to do is develop an overall mine action structure and capacity in the country – we don’t actually clear the mines from the ground ourselves. UNDP also looks at the socio-economic aspects of landmines. It’s important to know the benefits of spending money on mine action. If we clear this paddy field – will people start growing rice again and will that generate income and employment? We’ve done studies like that in Laos and Mozambique, for example.

MB: Is that type of study beneficial to donors?

IM: It is. In fact, studies like those ones have three objectives. One is to define the situation, so we know the impact that mines are having. The Landmine Impact Surveys fairly well cover this area now. Second, we want to give managers the tools to let them set priorities. And finally, it gives us the chance to tell donors what we’re doing with their money. They’ll say, "We’ve given you a million dollars, what have you done?" "Well, we’ve cleared this many hectares, but more importantly this has led to so many jobs created, reduced transport costs, increases in income generated, etc.."

MB: Do you carry out this work in-house?

IM: It depends on the situation. UNDP prefers to use what we call "national execution" where a Government ministry is responsible to oversee the UN project. We have this in about 5 of our country programmes. Otherwise, we tend to use the United Nations Office of Programme Services (UNOPS) to execute many of our projects. They’re basically a contracting agency within the UN, who specialize in international recruitment and project management services.

MB: Does UNOPS charge a fee for their services?

IM: They do. They’re not allowed to raise money direct from donors, so they generate their income by charging for their services. I always compare it to putting up a building. UNDP has the idea for a building and where it should go, we design it and arrange the money for it, then we need someone to build it for us, and that’s where UNOPS comes in. When we design a project in a country, we need technical advisors, specialized equipment procurement, service contracts, office equipment – all that sort of stuff – and UNOPS arranges all those sort of details.

MB: What are the criteria that the UN uses to provide mine action assistance to a country?

IM: The UN encourages all countries to sign the Ottawa Treaty, but they wouldn’t necessarily be excluded from receiving assistance if they hadn’t. In most cases, the humanitarian imperative is the most important criteria, and this is reflected in the UN policy. Sudan and Angola, for example, haven’t ratified the treaty, but there was an obvious need to go in and help people, so projects were started. In both of these cases though, it’s important to note that there were things that we would and wouldn’t do. With the Angolan government admitting to still using mines for example, we wouldn’t help the government, but we did help fund NGOs working there.

MB: Mine action now covers a whole range of activities – clearance, stockpile destruction, education – how did the UN evolve from just doing clearance to this integrated approach?

IM: When Afghanistan started off, it was just clearance. We trained Afghans to clear the mines, but first we had to find out where they were. So we set up an NGO to do surveys. Then, when refugees started to come back, we had to do some mine awareness and of course there was always a need to assist mine victims. Also, when the Ottawa Treaty came along, stockpile destruction became an important issue in many countries – you don’t have to clear the mines if they don’t ever get planted. So things really evolved according to need and according to what we were seeing was happening. It’s probably fair to say though, that the concept of mine action has been around since the start, but the term was only formally defined in the 1998 UN policy on mine action.

MB: What’s happening in Afghanistan at the moment?

IM: Within the UN system, UNDP is responsible for leading the overall recovery effort there. In conjunction with the World Ban, and the Asian Development Bank, UNDP helped to prepare an outline needs assessment and presented it to donors in Tokyo in January. It contained a section on mine action, which concluded that within 7 years and $650 million (U.S.), Afghanistan could be free from the impact of mines.

As far as actual implementation goes, as I said before, UNOCHA have historically been responsible for the oversight of the Mine Action Programme in Afghanistan (MAPA). However, with the establishment of a new UN structure there, this may change, and UNMAS may take on a stronger role. The good thing is that the interim Government wants the UN to stay involved in mine action. UNDP will continue to give assistance with this in some areas, like funding, management training, rehabilitation projects and oversight of a Landmine Impact Survey (LIS).

MB: How does the management training work?

IM: We run a few different types of programmes. Together with Cranfield University in the UK, we’ve set up some training courses for senior and middle managers of mine action programmes. In the first course, 14 senior managers from 14 different countries went to Cranfield. Since then we have conducted two more senior managers courses, and a number of middle managers courses. Everyone got on really well and at the end of this training, and we realized that this sort of interaction between nationals of mine affected countries was really valuable. So we decided to build on it and encourage this exchange of knowledge and ideas even more by setting up a staff exchange programme called MAX. For instance, Azerbaijan wants to begin a dog programme; Afghanistan has the oldest dog programme; so why not send someone from Afghanistan to Azerbaijan to spend some time teaching? Or for the new programme in Guinea-Bissau; why don’t we send some Portuguese-speaking people from Mozambique there to demonstrate the database system? Basically, this sort of thing is on the job training and about four exchanges are underway at present.

MB: What about the Landmine Impact Surveys. Can you describe what happens there?

IM: The surveys are very valuable tools for defining the socio-economic impact of mines on communities. A broad grouping of organizations are now involved with putting the surveys together – donors, the UN, organizations like the Survey Action Centre (SAC), plus a range of NGOs who undertake the field work. The survey is part of an integrated response to a landmine problem. It’s one of the tools used to work out what the problem is and where the priorities should be. And now, because we’ve been doing surveys for a while, there’s a standard methodology developed by SAC that’s followed – this gives us a common ground to talk about when describing the global landmine situation.

MB: What other activities does UNDP get involved in?

IM: There’s the socio-economic studies that I’ve talked about. We’re also doing a project on reintegration of landmine victims; not on the medical side; but a programme in a number of countries to help mine victims rehabilitate meaningfully into society. For example, we are doing an extension to vocational training in Cambodia, where they’re great at making handicrafts, but not so good at marketing them. So we’ve set up a business advisory council to help out there. We’ve also partnered with the Adopt-a-Minefield programme, which has been very successful in raising funds in the private sector and civil society in support of the UN mine action effort.

UNDP has 137 country offices around the world, which gives us the broadest reach of any UN agency. If Mauritania asks for assistance, we have an office there; if Vietnam asks, we’ve got an office there too. That makes our ability to understand a problem and react accordingly very effective.

MB: Where do the funds come from for the programmes that you run?

IM: Nearly all the mine action work funded by the UN comes from voluntary contributions provided by donors. Each year the UN puts together a portfolio of mine action projects from around the world. This years’ edition has just been released and it includes activities in 30 countries. Trust Funds are often used to help channel the funds to the programme countries. This is essential a lot of times because in post-conflict situations banking systems have broken down, so they can’t be used. Donors also want transparency and accountability, so they may be more comfortable giving money to a UN-managed Trust Fund, as opposed to an individual country. This works quite well also when smaller donors don’t have in-country representation.

Other times, donors may want to fund a programme, but not through a UN trust fund. That’s fine too as long as the host government approves, and the work is coordinated with the government’s wishes and the operations of the MAC. One place this didn’t happen so well was in Mozambique in the early days, when donors started programmes bi-laterally because they were interested in doing activities in certain parts of the country. The government at that stage was just recovering from the conflict, and donor activities weren’t always as effective they could be, because there was no coordination. Now though, the new National Demining Institute (IND) is quite organized, so the situation has settled down.

At the UN, we strive very hard to focus on this idea of coordination. Kosovo and Afghanistan are good examples of where the UN helped develop a coordinated response. In other cases, UNDP helps the Government to strengthen its own coordination capacity. We’d say for example, that we need clearance done in these six provinces and ask a donor for that type of specific help. Generally, we find this system works for the country, the UN and the donor.

Many of the contributions are also bilateral, and donors expect the affected countries to build up their own contributions over time. When a programme just starts though, local contributions may take the form of providing office space, or paying for the electricity for the MAC – that sort of thing. Then, as the situation starts to settle down, local knowledge and ability is built up and the government starts to pick up more of the tab. This is really important because sooner or later, international interest may start to wane, so the affected country has to become involved. For example, 90% of the Croatian programme, is now government funded. We’re just about to pull out of there, because we see our job as being done. We’ve helped set up the structure, we’re trained the staff, given them the IMSMA system and standards, and helped to organize projects. The same thing is happening in Cambodia, where the government gives more and more money each year. It is currently the sixth largest donor to its own programme. In these situations though, there still are donor funds required, so there needs to be accountability. In cases like this, we recommend setting up a donor advisory board that reports back to the government.

MB: Does UNDP recommend who sits on that board?

IM: We can give advice on this. Immediately after a conflict, we can help to get the ambassadors, donors and other interested parties together and perhaps facilitate the meetings. Again though, like other UNDP projects, we don’t run the show, but we help out.

MB: With donors being such a critical factor, how has donor interest in mine action changed?

IM: All the figures indicate that global funding for mine action has grown slowly over the past few years. To be honest, it didn’t start very high on a list of donor priorities – when Afghanistan appealed for money in 1988, many donors believed that demining should be a military issue and that the army should clean up after a war. But then, in the early 1990s, awareness of the huge impact of landmines was raised due to the situations in Angola, Kuwait, Cambodia and Afghanistan and the like. Along with the Ottawa Treaty and factors like the involvement of Princess Diana, and the Nobel prize, world attention became more focused on the issue and donor consciousness was raised. At the moment, the number of countries that contribute to the UN mine action efforts stands around 24, although only about 15 of them are regular donors.

The other thing was that in the early days, most donor countries didn’t know much about mine action, so they’d put their contributions in a Trust Fund and let the UN use it. Now though, as interest and knowledge of the issue increased, there’s been a corresponding increase in bilateral funding. Some donors feel that they get more visibility this way.

Unfortunately, the other side of the problem is that the list of countries seeking assistance has increased faster then the list of donors. In the mid 1990s, the UN was assisting six countries with mine action. Now it’s nearly 30. In some cases too, it’s hard to sustain interest in a programme or country if conflict continues or mines are still being laid.

MB: So does that mean there’s donor fatigue?

IM: Actually, I don’t agree with the notion of donor fatigue – it is such a negative concept to talk about. I think if you have a well-run programme, and you can demonstrate a need, you will get funding. "Fatigue" will only set in if there’s mismanagement or you can’t demonstrate that the work you’re doing is useful.

Besides, there may be other factors that influence where, or how long a donor provides assistance. Realistically, contributions can be made for all sorts of different reasons; political, geographic, commercial as well as the humanitarian needs. A slowdown or change in funding on the part of the donor may not be completely linked to the performance of the programme in question.

MB: Do you have to "shop" certain programmes around to get them funded?

IM: Sometimes it can work that way. The UN puts together a portfolio of mine action projects every year for instance, which donors can reference. We may also get calls from donors asking what needs there might be. We’re monitoring 16 countries at the moment, so at times like this, we can say "Laos is running a little short, you could fund that." This happened recently with the Koreans. They came to us and said that wanted to provide mine action assistance in southeast Asia, so I said, " we’ve got needs in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia – here’s what needs to be done, and here’s how much money is required." They will then make their decision on which one to fund.

MB: Does UNDP recommend the priority areas for mine action?

IM: Yes and no. We recommend to a national government that an inter-ministerial body is needed to oversee what’s happening and help set priorities. Mine action isn’t stand-alone, so this body needs to have links to other areas like agriculture, transportation, foreign affairs, defense. We help to advise on setting up the legislation to make this happen. Then, there’s the Mine Action Centre, that often gets set up in-country. This is the operational headquarters for mine action and through various tools, including the IMSMA database, they can work out what the priorities are. UNDP will help set the Centre up as well.

Then, actually carrying out activities related to the priorities – that’s where local and international NGOs come in.

MB: How do you coordinate the activities of the different bodies involved?

IM: That’s where an integrated, national mine action strategy and work plan comes in. Based on all the information that has been gathered from the various sources, one of the most important tasks for the government is to develop this type of plan, that sets out the objectives and priorities, as well as who is going to do what, and when. Usually, this plan is linked into overall national development goals and plans, such as reducing poverty. UNDP has helped a number of countries - Mozambique, Cambodia, Laos, Azerbaijan – for example, to develop these type of plans. Various coordination mechanisms can be set up at the country level to assist the planning process.

MB: Do all programmes have national plans?

IM: Some have developed very comprehensive plans, and most produce something to a certain degree. It’s certainly the ideal that UNDP aims for. When the Koreans came along like I mentioned and said that they wanted to help – because of the national plans, we were ready and were able to say "here’s what needs to be done, take your pick." A donor can clearly see what the national priorities and activities are.

Some people feel that you need to wait for a full Landmine Impact Survey to be done before you can come up with such a comprehensive plan – but I don’t necessarily agree with this. I think you can always get started somewhere; you can’t just sit there and wait around. Most countries would have enough information to get them started and then they can refine and set the priorities further once more information comes in. Look at what’s happening in Afghanistan or Laos – they produce one consolidated workplan in cooperation with all the NGOs, and then provide a consolidated report at the end of the year to donors.

MB: What are some of the pros and cons of working with local NGOs?

IM: The big advantage is that they use local people, so they’re cheaper. We’ve used local NGOs in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Mozambique and helped to develop their skills and capacities. However, this may not always the best way to go – especially in an emergency situation like Kosovo, where there’s no time to train new staff. In these cases, an international NGO that can bring people in quickly may be the best way to go. Another advantage of working with a local NGO is that they’re vital to the long term viability of a programme. In this respect, that’s what UNDP’s capacity building ideas are all about.

Quite often though, it also comes down to exactly what resources are available. Commercial companies for example, may not want to work in a country like Angola because there’s too much risk – so we have to use local outfits. As I said though, they may be the most suitable for the job anyway.

MB: How does the military fit in?

IM: When we began working in mine action, the UN wouldn’t support the military of a country. That policy came out of working in countries where the military was often the cause of the problem in the first place. However, the argument then came up that in some cases, the military are a good option for certain aspects of mine action, like clearance. They may not be good at mine awareness, surveys, or quality assurance, but that doesn’t mean that they should be excluded entirely. So UN policy was revised to allow for this in cases where there was overall civilian control of the national structure. It’s important to note though, that we won’t pay the salaries of soldiers, but we may ask donors to buy the demining equipment, or pay for insurance.

Whatever work the military, and the NGOs for that matter, does, it needs to be coordinated. It’s not much use clearing land that will never be used by anyone. Unfortunately though, this still happens. In one country we’ve worked in, the Government asked us to clear land for a school, so we did, but three years later still no school. This goes to show that mine action has to be linked to definite government priorities and actions. If rice growing is important to a government, you have to clear rice fields; if transport is an issue, you have to clear roads. The work the UN supports would never get involved in clearing military facilities in a country.

MB: With clearance priorities being determined by the Government, or by UN assessment missions and surveys, where do community-based priorities fit in?

IM: The UN assessment missions are quite broad and answer questions like; what’s the extent of the problem, which agency is best suited to handle it, that sort of thing. A landmine impact survey then gives you a closer look at which communities are worst affected within a country. It’s still a national level understanding though. When we work with NGOs to implement programmes on a local level, that’s where local communities come in and we expect the NGOs we’re working with to take the priorities of communities into account when carrying out work.

MB: So the NGOs help to decide which areas are cleared first?

IM: They certainly help in the planning processes due to their extensive local knowledge. What the UN can do is assist through the surveys to find the affected areas, or identify the activities that are causing a lot of injuries. In Yemen, for example, there are a lot of people searching for water and getting injured by landmines in the process. At the national level then, we assist the Government by saying, "You need to address this issue, you need to start running risk reduction programmes about this." We then help to find NGOs who can carry out these type of activities. The role UNDOP plays is to narrow down the options and the needs, and give a list or range of communities that need assistance. In many cases as well, the government gets involved at this level too. At the provincial and district level in Laos, there are development subcommittees, and mine action representatives participate in these.

From our point of view, as long as we can assist NGOs by directing them to the areas that need a response, and as long as the work they do is up to a certain standard, and they report back on the work they do – fine. Of course NGOs are fairly independent, but this way of working seems to be effective. Kosovo, in particular, showed the benefits of a strong, central organization.

MB: Would you say Kosovo is one of the biggest success stories in mine action?

IM: Definitely. A recent, independent evaluation acknowledged this, but also pointed out some advantages that that programme had. It was a small, contained area, there was lots of donor interest, and a strong, central UN coordination mechanism working under a UN Security Council Resolution.

It’s not always going to work this way though. As I’ve said, UNDP has to be invited into a country and it then works to strengthen government capacity and ability. We definitely think this is the best way to work in most mine affected countries, but it can be difficult because of government ownership, and government priorities may differ from out. It’s an education process. What’s important at times like this is the survey process, which allows us to say, in black and white, these are the worst affected communities. The Government can’t argue with that, it also leaves less room for corruption and misapplication of resources.

MB: So the Kosovo model would be hard to replicate?

IM: Not necessarily – the Afghanistan programme has been organized this way from the start. The UN is focusing on improving the coordination mechanism, and developing the NGOs to do the work. What is different in the countries that UNDP supports, is the need to work with Governments, it often involves a much larger scale landmine threat spanning decades of conflict, and less of the media spotlight to assist the resource mobilization efforts.

MB: By the sounds of it, for UNDP programmes to be successful, you need a stable government. Are elections part of the process of getting this stable government in place?

IM: That’s one of UNDP’s main roles. Security sector reform, governance issues, judicial reform, elections – assisting with these types of things is what UNDP does all the time. By strengthening the government process in these ways, we believe that will in turn lead to overall poverty reduction and human development.

MB: Some would say that capacity building is a myth – what do you think?

IM: It’s definitely not. I am firmly in the camp that capacity building is necessary and successful, and you can particularly see this in countries like Mozambique and Cambodia. They’re going to have a mine problem for years to come; the international community can come in and help to a certain point, but they will have a residual mine threat for a while yet, so we have to build capacity to help them deal with this. In other countries like Guinea-Bissau and Thailand, the mines aren’t necessarily a huge problem, so it’s harder to raise international interest – but it’s still a problem. Using Guinea-Bissau as an example, we’ve only raised a couple of hundred thousand dollars for that programme, but with that money, we’ve provided an expert to help develop local skills and abilities. If we had US$5 million, we could fix the problem in 6 months – but we don’t, so we have to come up with other ways. That’s what capacity building is all about.

Contact Information

Margaret Busé