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Victory in Our Time: The Future of Mine Action

Introduction


Richard Kidd, Director of the U.S. Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.

A great deal has been learned in the field of mine action over the past 25 years, placing us in a much better position to make sound decisions on how to allocate resources, what types of programs to implement, and how best to save lives and help societies recover from conflict. In fact, mine action has the potential—if allowed to evolve along with our improved understanding of the landmine threat—to eliminate the most pressing effects of landmines in fairly short order.

Many positive examples exist throughout the world of what the future of mine action could and should be. In Yemen, for example, a Landmine Impact Survey (LIS) in 2000 identified 296 affected communities. Of these communities, 14 accounted for roughly 75 percent of all the casualties in that country. In response to these findings, the government of Yemen redirected its clearance resources away from high-density minefields to high-impacted communities. Now those 14 communities have been cleared, and casualties have gone down accordingly.

In Chad, cached munitions sites, not landmines, are the number-one casualty-producing threat. The government of Chad, the U.S. government and Mines Advisory Group (MAG) are now planning a radical new approach that shifts away from unproductive large-area landmine clearance to focus instead on the caches that are killing people.

In Afghanistan, the recently completed LIS clearly indicates that by continuing current levels of funding, all minefields that have produced casualties, block roads and block irrigation systems can, with sound planning and good management, be cleared before the end of the decade. What once seemed like a diffuse and interminable problem in Afghanistan is now both identifiable and manageable with continued commitment and effort.

A Goal Within Reach

With a dozen impact surveys completed or under way, high-quality information now exists to support sophisticated strategic planning efforts with clear priorities for allocating resources and measuring results.

In the near term, i.e., the next two to four years, we can expect to remove the worst hazards from a large number of medium- and low-impact countries. In Afghanistan, Cambodia and other states with high levels of contamination, clearance may go on for a few years more.

However, as donors and the mine action community as a whole consider how best to move forward, there should be no plans to waste the unlimited resources that would be required to achieve mine-free status. While many donor nations talk about achieving a mine-free world, funds are not being provided in the amounts required to make this happen. Moreover, developing countries cannot be asked or expected to expend the huge resources necessary to track down the last mine deployed within their borders. Nor should they—particularly since we know from the impact survey process and 15 years of field experience that a major proportion of the world’s mines exist in marginal land where no one lives or works. In a world of scarce resources and competing humanitarian demands—HIV/AIDS, malaria, widespread poverty—we cannot afford the cost of spending $3 million (U.S.) to clear eight landmines as one non-governmental organization did in Chad.

Instead, governments in mine-affected countries can and will use indigenous capacities and, in most cases, their own funds, to institute risk management approaches based on mine risk education, minefield marking, survivors’ assistance, and limited clearance in response to new casualties and/or changes in land use patterns. We know from experience that in many circumstances, these types of long-term risk mitigation strategies have proven to be equally effective as—and more cost-effective than—total clearance.

However, proper implementation of an indigenous mine action strategy, one appropriately focused on impacts and that factors in both benefits and costs, requires a careful planning process on the part of the host government and its mine action authority. As a matter of policy, the U.S. State Department links its own donor assistance to the strategic plans of recipient countries and—except in cases of urgent humanitarian need—links our support to the existence and quality of a host country’s creation and execution of a sound strategic plan. This requirement promotes host-government prioritization, strengthens stakeholder involvement and ensures that U.S. assistance supports agreed-upon goals that are meaningful and measurable.

For our part, we in the State Department have our own humanitarian mine action strategic plan, with our own set of measurable goals and objectives. These include protecting victims of conflict, restoring access to land and infrastructure, promoting conflict-resolution and peace-building efforts, and improving global mine action response mechanisms. It also includes as a key priority developing host-nation capacity, which in many cases involves training mine action authorities in the strategic planning process.

Conclusion

I am upbeat about the future of mine action. In mine-affected countries, the power of survey data and sound strategic planning will focus scarce resources where they will generate the highest returns. As the most pressing impacts of landmines are removed, collective efforts will shift from large-scale clearance by outside organizations to smaller, more indigenous and more sustainable programs focused on managing risk within local conditions and resources.

Moreover, as the at-times rancorous policy debate of the past dissipates, more productive dialogue and progress in venues like the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) can be expected. Within the CCW, the recently completed protocol on explosive remnants of war offers a clear example that the CCW process can and does work. We are optimistic that the ongoing discussions on mines other than anti-personnel mines will result in a similar success. Similarly, with many states signaling a willingness to consider a ban on the transfer of all persistent mines and to address the issue of non-detectable landmines, I am hopeful that within a few years, trade in persistent mines of all types can be stopped, and that the use of non-detectable mines of all types will also be curtailed.

I am also optimistic about the continued role that civil society and the private sector can play in accelerating mine action and unleashing creative forces through fundraising, project design and the integration of mine action with development. Governments can only do so much, and the involvement of private citizens is essential in solving the problems generated by landmines, unexploded ordnance and other remnants of war.

While there will never be enough money to make the world mine free, the funds, commitment and insight already exist to make it mine safe. The most pressing impacts of landmines can be eliminated within the next few years, and funds redirected to other areas and other causes where they will do more to save lives and promote reconstruction.

Contact Information

Richard Kidd
Director, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA)
U.S. Department of State
SA-3, Suite 6100 WRA
2121 Virginia Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20522
USA
Tel: (202) 663-0086
Fax: (202) 663-0090, 663-0106
E-mail: kidd@pmwra.org