UNICEF: A Leader in Mine Awareness

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As the United Nation’s lead agency on mine awareness/mine risk education (MRE), the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has done work in about 30 countries that suffer from the effects of landmines. Their programs help affected populations cope with the problems of landmines and give them the means to carry out their daily lives as safely as possible until their land can be cleared and returned to productive use.

Two instructors conduct a UNICEF-assisted mine awareness session for children in an Angolan camp for displaced persons.
by Nicole Kreger, MAIC


UNICEF is the UN focal point for mine awareness. As such, its mission is to “provide appropriate guidance for all mine awareness programs, liaising closely with concerned partners.…”1 In many cases, this means that UNICEF oversees or provides funding for projects that are actually implemented by other already established in-country organizations. While UNICEF’s mine awareness responsibilities encompass all groups regardless of age, the organization tends to conduct most of its awareness programs in school-based settings and other locations in which children are the main target audience.

Examples of UNICEF Programs

The following highlights the country programs in which UNICEF has been instrumental over the past year. While the list provided here is not exhaustive, it is meant to emphasize the broad range of impact that UNICEF has on mine awareness around the world.

UNICEF supports an extensive mine awareness campaign in Afghanistan, which involves 12 districts in Kabul. Mine awareness messages are spread in mosques, on the radio and in schools, where they are being incorporated into the curriculum. Currently, UNICEF is supporting a “quick-impact” mine awareness campaign that targets 3,800 schools in Afghanistan. This program teaches students directly and also trains teachers how to teach students about the risks of landmines.

With the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan (UNOCHA), UNICEF has developed a mine awareness country plan and has begun to implement it this year. Some of the objectives include building local capacities for sustainable community-based mine awareness programs, incorporating mine awareness into the health and education sectors, and reallocating resources to meet the needs of those communities that are the most affected. UNICEF is providing support for radio programs on mine awareness and conducting a nationwide mine/UXO impact survey that includes information on mine awareness. Additionally, UNICEF is assisting local NGO META in developing train-the-trainer courses and materials; this information is then being used to teach trainers who will in turn instruct health workers, teachers and community volunteers. META and UNICEF are also developing a system to monitor and evaluate mine awareness in Afghanistan.

UNICEF is currently the lead agency for mine awareness in Albania. The NGO CARE carries out mine action activities in the northern districts of the country, and UNICEF provides support for their activities. These programs have included a two-day seminar for 84 Tropojë-district teachers. UNICEF is also developing capacity building within the Ministry of Education by training supervisors and teachers through a train-the-trainer program that targets the 11 areas with the highest risk from mines and UXO. Furthermore, UNICEF conducted a needs assessment survey from 2001–2002, which led to the development of a national mine risk education strategy for 2002.

Partnering with Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), UNICEF has trained 180 instructors on mine awareness in Angola. These people have in turn spread awareness to over 300,000 people. UNICEF has also funded an Angolan theater group to teach mine awareness through theatrical productions. This method of information dissemination is popular because it is entertaining to the audience and costs relatively little in comparison with other teaching methods.

Along with the Angolan National Institute for the Removal of Obstacles and Explosive Ordnance (INAROEE), UNICEF has created mine awareness messages for television and radio. UNICEF is also focusing its efforts in Angola on getting the community involved by encouraging local leaders and teachers to disseminate the messages to others. UNICEF has educated almost 1,000 teachers using the train-the-trainer method. By February of 2002, over 140,000 students had received mine awareness education through this method. Continuing the trend of teaching mine awareness in schools, the Ministry of Education formally incorporated mine awareness into the national curriculum this year.

UNICEF is implementing a three-year project targeting all Bosnian schoolchildren. This involves producing and distributing updated Mine Awareness Education Kits to all pre-schools, primary schools and secondary schools. UNICEF has also recruited an experienced adviser to assist the Bosnia-Herzegovina Mine Action Center (BHMAC) with mine awareness by providing technical assistance. This adviser will help the BHMAC develop a national mine risk education policy and be UNICEF’s focal mine awareness person. Other projects to which UNICEF provides support include an interactive puppet theater in the Republika Sprska and mine awareness summer camps.

UNICEF is also emphasizing the need for community involvement in spreading mine awareness in Bosnia. In order to increase involvement of community members, UNICEF’s program involves developing a community action kit with mine injury prevention tools for use by local communities. UNICEF is working on training select communities in its use. Community involvement like this is important, because without it, “there is little hope of maintaining these activities at a high enough level.”2

UNICEF is the only organization in Burundi conducting mine awareness education. Thus far, they have trained 100 people and developed five educational posters. UNICEF is helping the government of Burundi build up its technical capacity for carrying out mine awareness in affected areas of the country. They have planned to develop Burundi-specific mine awareness materials and use a train-the-trainer approach to educate the population. Unfortunately, as of May, UNICEF said in a press release that its fundraising efforts for the program had been unsuccessful. They also stated, “Highlighting the current intensity of fighting in Burundi, UNICEF insists that it is urgent to fund this sector that would enable the implementation of advocacy, mine risk education, victim assistance or mine data collection.”3

In late 2001, the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) began a pilot project supported by UNICEF and Handicap International Belgium to conduct community-based mine/UXO risk reduction. This phase ended in May, after which an evaluation was conducted and recommendations were made for a second project. Additionally, UNICEF has been providing technical support to the Cambodia Mine Action/Victim Assistance Authorities’ (CMAA’s) newly appointed Mine Awareness Focal Point.

In a program targeting 30 districts, UNICEF has planned to teach mine awareness to children in the most affected areas in Cambodia. Known as the “Children in Post Conflict Project,” this three-year program will allow for primary school teachers to provide children with mine risk education. The program aims to educate children both inside and out of schools and hopes to incorporate community participation in mine action.

UNICEF also chairs a recently formed mine risk education working group that consists of all parties in Cambodia involved with such work. The group determined that Cambodia still has a need for mine risk education, since there is still a high number of incidents and the rate of clearance is slow. One recommendation from the group was to expand the approach of MRE from traditional methods in order to get community participation and make use of community human resources.

Recently, UNICEF and the Eritrean Mine Action Program (EMAP) established an inter-agency MRE Working Group in order to create an MRE program for Eritrea. Together they determined what was necessary for a long-term national MRE strategy, which includes creating a process for accrediting MRE trainers, distributing MRE materials to returning refugees, and organizing MRE activities for IDPs in camps. These projects will be carried out through the end of 2003.

Additional mine awareness activities in Eritrea include weekly and bi-weekly radio broadcasts and a roadside billboard program. An MRE program for schoolteachers has been completed, and by now, almost all teachers in highly affected areas of the country have received training. UNICEF has also gotten the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) Mine Action Coordination Center (MACC) to integrate mine awareness into its Quality Assurance process.

UNICEF’s support for Ethiopian MRE activities began in 1999, and they are carried out by a local NGO. Current efforts are focused on mine-affected communities in 10 districts of the Tigray and Afar regions. Their current project is implementing a community-based approach involving civil administration, religious groups, women’s and children’s organizations and local radio. Since 2001, UNICEF has focused its support on building the country’s technical capacity in MRE based on the International Mine Action Standards by working with the UN Mine Advisory Team and Ethiopian Mine Action Office (EMAO).

UNICEF is one of three organizations that provide support to mine risk education activities in Guinea-Bissau. One of UNICEF’s biggest roles in the country was in establishing a Mine Awareness Committee (COAM), which has met bi-weekly since April 1999. The COAM focuses its efforts on information, training and logistics, which has included the production of tools such as marking ropes and triangles, billboards, posters, labels, T-shirts and comic books. Plans for 2002–2003 include increasing community involvement in mine awareness, incorporating mine awareness into school curricula and disseminating mine awareness messages via radio and TV.

UNICEF helped fund Operation Normal Life (ONL), a project that helped “make all communities in Kosovo aware of the extent of mine action in their area.”4 Its aim was to make up for the fact that mine awareness had previously been conducted independently of other mine action activities, which had often caused confusion among villagers about what work was being done to clear minefields. This project, managed by the MACC and involving most of the over 20 mine awareness agencies in the country, concluded in April 2002.

Along with the Department of Education and Science (DoES), UNICEF ran a pilot program earlier this year called Life Skills. The program included mine awareness training and was scheduled to enter into the curricula of 100 schools and surrounding communities in September. The program will continue through September 2003.

The Lao National UXO project (UXO LAO) carries out mine/UXO risk education through its Community Awareness (CA) teams. Much of the funding for such awareness programs comes from UNICEF. A study conducted by the two agencies revealed that citizens in villages visited by CA teams had a high level of understanding regarding UXO issues. The study also showed, though, that understanding does not necessarily lead to behavior change; thus, a new study is planned to investigate UXO awareness and the factors related to UXO incidents.

UNICEF is also collaborating with the Ministry of Education (MOE), UXO LAO and the Lao Youth Union on a two-year project to educate children on UXO awareness. Targeting children both in and out of school, the project began as a pilot program in four provinces of the country, and plans to expand nationally. The program will encourage participation from the children by having them help create and later disseminate the safety messages. Children not in school will receive messages with the creation of safe play environments. Other parts of this program will include “Sport-in-a-Box” activities, which incorporate games and recreational activities with UXO awareness, and puppet shows and songs performed by children.

Working in conjunction with the National Demining Commission (CND) and its Sub-Commission on Education, Prevention and Re-Integration, UNICEF has plans to establish national standards for mine risk education during 2002 and 2003. The organizations hope this will lead to improved coordination between clearance and education activities as well as better synchronization among mine action organizations in Nicaragua. The standards will encompass the following areas: planning, methodological approaches, community participation, material production, monitoring and impact evaluation. They are also developing curricular modules on MRE and create mine/UXO awareness materials.

Another of UNICEF’s ongoing projects in Nicaragua is a community liaison project to be implemented by the Organization of American States (OAS). The plan for the project is to “identify those key community members who could act as focal points for further mine action activities in the most affected communities.”5 This project will later merge with the efforts of the CND in order to integrate mine clearance and mine awareness activities nationwide more effectively.

Russia (Chechnya/Ingushetia)
UNICEF’s main role in Chechnya and Ingushetia is as the coordinator of all mine-related activities both of the UN and of NGOs. A number of organizations, including UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as well as local NGOs, have begun a comprehensive program for MRE and survivor assistance. The program focuses on training over 190,000 children in the region. This began with a train-the-trainer course for 460 teachers, who will in turn pass this information on to children ranging in age from 6 to 17. These children will receive an MRE course plus booklets, posters, T-shirts, sweatshirts, pens, pencils, notebooks and drawing sets with relevant messages. This yearlong program will conclude at the end of 2002.

UNICEF Vietnam’s mine awareness activities in Vietnam aim to make an immediate impact on the population’s level of awareness, but more importantly, they hope to develop “long-term, sustainable approaches to this issue.”6 In order to accomplish this, UNICEF proposed a survey to be conducted in Quang Tri province that will determine the level of mine-safety knowledge among local people. Through this survey, UNICEF will be able to determine what messages they should send to the population and who the target audience should be. UNICEF plans to carry out the survey by the end of 2002, and a national MRE media campaign will follow, including print ads, radio spots and TV commercials. Most messages will be aimed primarily at children.

UNICEF Vietnam, with the help of the Ministry of Education and Training, has also introduced a school-based mine/UXO safety program. Teachers at schools in 15 provinces are incorporating MRE messages into their curriculum. Additionally, UNICEF is supporting child-to-child learning activities that the organization hopes will bring the messages to children out of school as well as other members of the community.

International Guidelines

Due to widespread belief that mine awareness programs were insufficiently structured, UNICEF’s Office of Emergency Programs began developing the International Guidelines for Landmine and Unexploded Ordnance Awareness Education. The Guidelines, released in 1999, were created “in order to promote the effective planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of mine awareness programs.”7 They are designed as a reference for people involved in mine awareness.

The Guidelines, taking into account that mine awareness is “a process that encourages populations to become involved rather than…an imposed solution,”8 aims to apply a fully integrated approach to mine action. This means making sure that mine clearance and mine awareness operate in conjunction instead of separately, as they have in the past. Issues are addressed in four sections, namely:

  • Feasibility Study

  • Needs Assessment

  • Program Planning

  • Monitoring and Evaluation

UNICEF intended the Guidelines to be an overview of issues that are central to mine/UXO awareness, primarily for policy makers and donors. The publication has been endorsed by the Ottawa Treaty States Parties’ Standing Committee on Victim Assistance, Socio-Economic Reintegration and Mine Awareness and translated into French and Spanish for widespread dissemination.


UNICEF has proven from its past and current activities to be a world leader in bringing mine awareness to populations in mine-affected areas. The programs listed above are only a few examples of how UNICEF has helped prevent mine incidents. Continuing in this tradition, UNICEF will be releasing some publications in the next few months about mine awareness programs. The first is a new portfolio of their programs with updates from the past few months, which will be released by the end of November. The second is a “Lessons Learned” publication that will include information gained from the experiences of people involved in mine awareness programs. UNICEF hopes to release this document by January of 2003.

*All photos courtesy of UNICEF


  1. “United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).” Online Document: http://www.icbl.org/lm/2002/appendices/unicef.html. Landmine Monitor Report 2002. October 7, 2002.
  2. “Mine Injury Prevention in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Online Document: http://www.mineaction.org/misc/dynamic_overview.cfm?did=14 United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Projects. October 7, 2002.
  3. “Burundi.” Online Document: http://www.icbl.org/lm/2002/burundi.html. Landmine Monitor Report 2002. October 7, 2002.
  4. Qtd. in “Kosovo.” Online Document: http://www.icbl.org/lm/2002/kosovo.html. Landmine Monitor Report 2002. October 7, 2002.
  5. “Landmine and UXO Awareness Education in Nicaragua.” Online Document: http://www.mineaction.org/misc/dynamic_overview.cfm?did=14 United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Projects. October 7, 2002.
  6. “Mine Risk Education and Awareness in Viet Nam.” Online Document: http://www.mineaction.org/misc/dynamic_overview.cfm?did=14 United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Projects. October 7, 2002.
  7. International Guidelines for Landmine and Unexploded Ordnance Awareness Education. Online Document: http://members.iinet.net.au/~pictim/unicef/unicef.html. September 19, 2002.
  8. International Guidelines for Landmine and Unexploded Ordnance Awareness Education. Online .Pdf Document: http://members.iinet.net.au/~pictim/unicef/mineawar.pdf. September 19, 2002.

Contact Information

Gianluca Buono
Project Officer
UNICEF Landmines & Small Arms Team
Humanitarian Policy & Advocacy Unit
Office of Emergency Programs (EMOPS)
3 UN Plaza
New York, NY 10017
Tel: 212-326-7498
Fax: 212-326-7037
E-mail: gbuono@unicef.org
Website: http://www.unicef.org

Nicole Kreger
Tel: 540-568-2810
Fax: 540-568-8176
E-mail: kregernx@jmu.edu