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An Operator's Perspective on Ottawa's Article 5

Updated Wednesday, 18-Sep-2013 09:05:10 EDT

The Nairobi Action Plan calls upon all of us in the mine action community to "ensure that assistance in mine action is based on adequate surveys, needs analysis and cost-effective approaches."1 The purpose of this editorial is to bring an operator's perspective to this commitment.

Cost-effectiveness in the traditional sense of the word has many aspects and can be displayed in many ways. Several practical examples have been presented at various occasions involving issues like coordination, toolboxes, complementarities of methods, technologies, etc. I will attempt not to prod any further into that here.

What we need to do is ask some pretty tough questions at this stage. Yet at the same time, we need to prepare ourselves for constructive criticism and self-analysis, a rather normal but unpleasant outcome of lessons learnt. A natural outset for these questions would be articulated by recalling the objectives we set for ourselves in the pursuit of mine action in the late 1980s and early 1990s, long before the Ottawa Convention2 came to be.

Even then we were talking about implementing mine clearance operations in support of the creation and development of sustainable national structures and operations that are capable of solving the landmine problem. The Convention was pushed through as a groundbreaking framework for the establishment of such setups, and fundraising was time-consuming but not necessarily very hard.

If we are to meet the obligations of Article 5, we need to seriously change our approach.

Around the same time, we made huge efforts to develop a technical framework for mine action to make it as safe, secure and all-encompassing as possible in the wake of internationally recognized advanced quality management mechanisms á la ISO 9000.3 Our intentions were good back then, but, as with most prescribed medicines, it had side effects and a negative impact on our ability to obtain the overall objective of effectively ridding the world of mines. With the benefit of this hindsight, it is paramount that we now collectively ask ourselves the following:

  • Why is mine action still more characterized by the provision of externally managed, too-complex and thus pacifying mechanisms for mine action rather than assisting in the creation of nationally adaptable, appropriate and sustainable measures to solve the problem?
  • Why is it so difficult—even sometimes with good impact and technical data at hand—to establish national mine action plans aimed at meeting the obligations of Article 5? This means national plans where national authorities' initiative leads to the full participation and commitment of the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and donors-in-the-making, for implementation and support of that plan—and the ability to see it through.
  • Why are international organizations still implementing large-scale mine action operations when we all said we would build national capacity and ensure national ownership?
  • Why aren't the formal demobilization processes that put thousands of former combatants to work in the minefields undertaken in support of national planning and implementation of national efforts? Moreover, why aren't more regular army units involved in post-conflict clearance as part of a well-structured national plan?
  • Why is there still a growing division between U.N. and NGO perspectives on mine action at both the national and international levels, despite hard attempts on both sides to find common ground on coordination and planning of mine action? In addition, why aren't governments of mine-affected countries more aware of the development of better practices on the national levels?

Based on these questions, it would be fair to say that the level of accomplishment compared to the input of resources just is not justifiable. Furthermore, the implementation of mine action activities is now effectively taking place outside of centrally managed bureaucracies. The established structures and mechanisms have proven inefficient and inadequate and now need to be challenged in order to render the higher output needed to meet looming Article 5 deadlines.

If we are to meet the obligations of Article 5, we (national authorities in affected states, the United Nations, NGOs—all of us involved in solving the problem of anti-personnel landmines) need to seriously change our approach.

While we at Norwegian People's Aid do not have all the answers on how to achieve a new paradigm for mine action, we think peer pressure, active donor engagement and goal-setting need to be communicated to all mine action operators and mine-affected countries in order to obtain national ownership, effective planning and cooperation to get the job done. To achieve this, a donor should ensure that these optimal conditions are in place prior to granting funds. With the current trend of shifting project and program support to that of budget and sector support, it should also be a fundamental requirement that mine action is elaborated on in national development plans and poverty-reduction strategies. Failure to do this will leave any national potential budget line for mine action at zero, and all activities will continue to need external funding. Any sound investor looking for the return of a successful implementation of the Ottawa Convention would ensure good management, articulated objectives and a plan for the implementation of activities to reach the goals. Deviation reports along the way are also common in responsible management and good governance.

Similarly, mine-affected countries should draft national plans, taking into account the obligations set in the Convention. However, some mine-affected countries with national plans have unfortunately already placed the goal beyond the outer perimeter of Article 5 deadlines, articulating achievement levels lesser than those bound by the Convention. Fortunately, the goals for every individual mine-affected country are spelled out in the text of Article 5 and bound through the ratification or accession to the Convention so that necessary timeline corrections can be easily altered.

Realistic national plans faithful to these obligations should be a clear responsibility of the States Parties. Operators, donors and other relevant stakeholders should take part in the development of these plans to ensure implementation and commitment to national plans.

Practically speaking, a flexile and dynamic, locally elaborated operational work plan should thereafter balance the tasks within the timeframe and resources available. This work plan should include clearing mined areas impeding safety, free circulation, and development as a matter of priority and classifying those that in the meantime can do with perimeter marking, to render a safe environment in mine-affected areas until these mined areas also must be neutralized for those 22 States Parties meeting their Article 5 deadline in March 2009.

This strategy may sound easy and fairly logical, but, generally speaking, it simply has not been done to the extent needed in order to claim victory in 2009. The mine action community needs the immediate attention of all States Parties to the Convention to fundamentally correct these things now.


Per Nergaard has been involved in humanitarian mine action in NPA since 1993, both at headquarters and at the field level. He has worked for NPA in Malawi, Mozambique and Bosnia. Mr. Nergaard is a former infantry officer in the Norwegian army and studied literature at the University of Oslo from 1989 to 1993.


  1. "Ending the Suffering Caused by Anti-personnel Mines." Nairobi Action Plan 2005–2009. 29 Nov. 2004.$File/Action%20Plan%20.pdf. 10 Oct. 2005.
  2. Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction. Ottawa, Canada. Sept. 18, 1997. Accessed Oct. 10, 2005.
  3. ISO 9000 is a set of standards for quality management systems that is accepted around the world. For more information about the various quality certifications, visit International Organization for Standardization at or Simply Qualify's Frequently Asked Questions about ISO 9000 at

Contact Information

Mr. Per Jacob Nergaard
Landmines Project Coordinator
Head, Mine Action Unit
Norwegian People's Aid
P.O. Box 8844
Youngstorget, Oslo N-0028
Tel: +47 22-03-77-56
Cell: +47 90-98-03-11
Fax: +47 22-20-08-70
Web site: