The United States has been involved in humanitarian demining since 1988 when the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) sent a team to Afghanistan to assess the landmine situation there. In 1989, USAID established the Patrick J. Leahy War Victims Fund, which provides support to people living with disabilities, primarily those who suffer from mobility-related injuries caused by unexploded ordnance, including anti-personnel landmines and other direct and indirect causes of physical disability. While USAID continued to support mine action in Afghanistan and elsewhere, in 1993, the United States established a broad-based program of humanitarian demining support that included the Department of State, the Department of Defense and USAID. As the saying goes, “We’ve come a long way since then.” Since then, the U.S. has provided more than $600 million (U.S.) to 43 countries and is committed to continue to support mine action around the world.
Goals of the Program
The goals of the U.S. Humanitarian Demining Program are to reduce the loss of life and limb of innocents, to create conditions for the safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons, and to afford opportunity for economic and social reconstruction. Fortunately, there has been much success in reaching these goals due to the commitment of the United States and other donors and to the energy, professionalism and dedication of implementing partners and affiliates. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons have returned to their homes. Thousands of acres of land formerly contaminated with mines and unsuitable for farming conditions are in use and are producing agricultural commodities necessary to sustain life. Potable water is available; roads are open and in use; schools that were once shut down due to the danger of mines are now open and continuing education. Landmine survivors are being integrated back into their communities and are resuming their lives. And most importantly, the amount of reported landmine casualties is greatly declining.
While some of these successes can be attributed to the clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance, much credit for these achievements is due to the emergence of mine risk education programs. Mine risk education helps to inform affected populations of the dangers of landmines and provides suggestions on how to minimize the risk while performing necessary and recreational activities. Mine risk education programs are especially beneficial to children, emphasizing the need to steer clear of specific areas and unknown objects.
Mine Risk Education
Mine risk education is one of the major components of mine action. The United States may assist with one, some or all components of mine action in a mine-affected country based on specific needs. In many cases, the affected nation will establish a Mine Action Center or National Demining Office to coordinate mine action activities. Mine risk education entails teaching people how to recognize, avoid and inform demining authorities of the presence of landmines. Teaching people this information, in most cases, significantly reduces the number of casualties. Mine risk education uses a variety of materials and media to convey important messages. These materials must be sensitive to the cultural traditions of the local populations, or else the material may not be conveyed properly. Educating whole populations, allowing them to incorporate safety procedures into their daily lives, is one main goal of mine risk education.
The Department of State, through the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Humanitarian Demining Programs (PM/HDP), is the lead agency in coordinating U.S. humanitarian demining programs worldwide and oversees the daily management of bilateral demining assistance programs. The Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining and Related (NADR) programs appropriation funds mine action operations around the world, having provided nearly $180 million since 1993. The following countries currently receive NADR support for mine risk education programs: Afghanistan, Armenia, Guatemala, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Vietnam and Yemen. Countries that have received such assistance in the past include: Macedonia, Namibia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Oman, Thailand, Zimbabwe, Angola, Croatia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Jordan, Lebanon and Nicaragua.
The Department of Defense also funds mine action activities through the Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster and Civic Aid (OHDACA) appropriation fund. Other U.S. government agencies funding mine action are the USAID Patrick J. Leahy War Victims Fund, and the Center for Disease Control. In addition, the United States channels all of its mine action support for Balkan states through the Slovenian International Trust Fund (ITF).
Mine risk education activities funded by the U.S. government are carried out by the Special Operation Forces, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its implementing partners and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as HALO Trust, CARE and Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA). The U.S. Department of Defense’s Special Operations Forces (SOF) provide mine risk education training in many different counties. SOF personnel are fluent in the languages of mine-affected countries and undergo country-specific cultural training prior to engagement in any of these countries in order to be more successful and efficient in their training.
UNICEF is involved in implementing many State Department funded programs around the world spreading mine risk education, specifically to women and children. Their current activities include programs in Afghanistan, Colombia, Eritrea, Vietnam and Ethiopia.
UNICEF and the Mine Action Center for Afghanistan (MACA) have developed a joint plan of action, which will be implemented through MAPA in order to ensure success of mine risk education in Afghanistan. Three projects expected to be completed by the end of December 2002 include Capacity Building, Community-and School-Based Mine Risk Education, and Information Management in order to train, educate and survey mine risk education among civilians in a variety of ways. A number of activities exist within each project to facilitate the program objectives, which include providing direct instruction to populations at risk, building and enhancing capacities of MAPA mine risk education agencies, further incorporation of mine risk education initiatives into available mass media and public information systems, and improving information collection and analysis initiatives.
These activities will expand and improve Afghanistan’s mine risk education program and will effectively distribute information to civilians, including women and children, in order to dynamically reduce the number of casualties due to landmines.
Successful Past Projects Finishing
In a different approach, refugees from Kosovo were informed of the landmine situation before arriving home to cut back on the number of immediate casualties. This was a watershed project due to the fact people had never before been informed of the situation before returning home to mine-infested land. To ensure that refugees returned to Kosovo were informed of the dangers of landmines, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) provided information on the dangers of landmines and how to seek help after finding one. UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) organized training for IOM escorts and supplied a variety of mine risk education materials including videos to be shown on airplanes and audiocassettes to be played on buses transporting refugees back home.
UNICEF strives to make teaching people about the risk of landmines more than just a transfer of information; they attempt to make the population active partners in promoting mine awareness in their communities. It has been found that the child-to-child approach is an effective means of teaching mine risk education because it encourages children to create their own means of communication, which has maximum impact when passing the information on. UNICEF works with a number of partners in schools throughout Kosovo, one of which is the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF). Children between the ages of 10 and 14 are trained as educators on mine risk education and are actively involved in developing games, plays, songs and interactive sessions with other children. UNICEF and VVAF trained five teams of educators, and the teams conducted a series of sessions for children, and recruited over 600 volunteers between the ages of 15 and 24 to form youth Mine Action Education Teams. The volunteers are in charge of designing and implementing activities to raise awareness among peers and children in their communities.
During October and November of 1999, VVAF, along with UNICEF, organized the “spirit of soccer,” a program that combined soccer and mine risk education. More than 500 young players became involved. UNICEF also supported local drama groups and a puppet theater program to perform shows in a dramatic sense. A series of mine risk education days were held in July and August 2000 where the topic was integrated into a day of sports, competitions, workshops and games. UNICEF supplied over 3,500 exercise books with covers displaying mine messages.
UNICEF also brought mine risk education into the classroom in Kosovo. In August 2000, over 1,500 teachers were trained to teach the subject, which passed the message on to thousands of children.
Mine risk education is vital to communities whose lands are plagued with landmines. Without the benefit of this information, the world would continue to experience casualties at an unacceptable rate. With the support of the U.S. government and other donors, and with the efforts of a host of implementing partners, mine risk education is a main component to mine action around the globe. Many programs have been implemented with successful results, and efforts will continue until people are able to walk the earth in safety.
*All photos courtesy of the author.