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Landmine Impact Survey of Afghanistan: Results and Implications for Planning

Updated Wednesday, 18-Sep-2013 09:17:46 EDT

The fieldwork for the Afghanistan Landmine Impact Survey was completed in January 2005, and the United Nations certified it 30 Sept. 2005. The final ALIS report is expected to be published in March 2006. This article provides an overview of the findings and how the mine action community in Afghanistan is using the results in its strategic planning.


The Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan is one of the largest and longest-running mine action programs in the world. In 1993, the Mine Clearance Planning Agency, an Afghan non-governmental organization, conducted the first Level One Survey, the predecessor to the Landmine Impact Survey.1 Over the years, new suspected hazard areas were periodically added to the MAPA database. As years passed, however, the database was unable to meet the increasing needs of mine action stakeholders. The situation called for a proactive response.

In 2000, the United Nations Mine Action Service, the Survey Action Center, and the government of Afghanistan first discussed the need for an LIS in Afghanistan. The lack of international interest in mine action in Afghanistan while under the Taliban, and the subsequent Coalition operations against al-Qaida and the Taliban after 9/11, however, postponed implementation of an LIS until 2002, when conditions were more conducive to executing a national survey. In November 2002, the U.N. Development Programme and the European Commission signed a contract for SAC to oversee the ALIS and provide technical support to the Mine Clearance Planning Agency. In May 2003, SAC and MCPA fielded teams to commence the survey.

Communities surveyed in Afghanistan.
Map by Survey Action Center

MCPA teams were able to travel to all but five of the 329 districts in the 32 provinces. The teams operated under severe security constraints in potentially dangerous conditions and deserve commendation for their extraordinary achievement. During this time, MCPA survey teams visited over 9,000 communities suspected to have landmine and unexploded ordnance problems.

The ALIS was funded by the EC through UNDP and the UNMAS Voluntary Trust Fund for Assistance in Mine Action, as well as the governments of Canada and Germany through SAC.


The Afghanistan survey was, in some respects, different from many Landmine Impact Surveys conducted around the world. One such difference was the so-called "retrofitting" of 13 years of mine contamination and mine action operations information contained in the Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan databases. Survey teams deployed to the field carried with them the available database information on the area in which they were traveling and sought to verify or discount the database information. The result is a "retrofitted" database providing a sound basis for making planning assumptions.

Over the course of the 13-month fieldwork period, approximately 50 percent of the database was discounted as being outdated and invalid. This section was replaced by an equal volume of new information that can be used for long-term planning, priority-setting and operational tasking. The ALIS successfully converted the individual mine site data in the UNMACA database into community data that provide a clearer picture of the true extent of the impact of landmines on Afghan communities. The ALIS results established new benchmarks from which progress and success can now be measured. Prior to the survey, the UNMACA database listed 850 square kilometers (328 square miles) of suspected hazard areas. Upon completion of the survey, the revised contaminated area was 715 square kilometers (276 square miles), a 15-percent reduction.

Key Findings

The ALIS produced three major findings: first, landmines impact 7 percent of the more than 33,000 communities in Afghanistan; second, 18 percent of landmine/UXO victims are children between 5 and 14 years of age (a very high percentage); and third, the retrofit aspect of the survey has updated the MAPA database and reduced the mine-contaminated area by 15 percent.

More specifically, the ALIS identified 2,368 communities impacted by landmines and/or UXO in 259 of the 329 districts. An estimated 4.2 million people live in these landmine- or UXO-impacted communities, with 1.6 million of these living in high- or medium-impact communities. It is estimated that approximately 17 percent of all citizens are living in mine-impacted communities.

Community impact. A scoring mechanism developed by the Survey Working Group categorizes the communities by their degree of impact. The scoring system is driven by three elements: the number of victims, blocked access to resources or development opportunities and the type of munitions contaminating the community. The Afghan government modified this system within parameters established by the SWG, putting extra weight on blockages related to pastureland and water. Thus, the scoring system was responsive to national concerns while remaining within accepted international norms. Using this ranking system, Afghanistan was found to contain 281 high-impact communities, 480 medium-impact communities and 1,607 low-impact communities.

Impact Category Communities SHAs Population
  Number % Number % Number %
High 281 12 718 16 715,113 17
Medium 480 20 1,055 23 891,429 21
Low 1,607 68 2,741 61 2,541,658 62
Total 2,368 100 4,514 100 4,148,200 100
Table 1: Impacted communities, populations and suspected hazard areas, by impact category.

The survey found impacted communities are not equally distributed throughout the country. Seventy-five percent of the impacted communities (and a similar percentage of SHAs and recent victims) are found in just 12 of the country’s 32 provinces, with Kabul, Parwan and Baghlan being the three most heavily impacted provinces. The central area of Afghanistan, on the other hand, is largely impact-free, with Uruzgan province in the south being the sole impact-free province in the country as determined by the ALIS. The reasons for impact clustering, as well as some exceptionally high-impact communities, can be traced to the conflict with the Soviet Union (1979–1989) and Afghanistan’s internal struggles—especially around Kabul (1993–1995) and the Shamali Plain north of Kabul (1996–2001)—with various factions, warlords and the Taliban regime.

The nomadic Kuchis were interviewed over the course of the survey as they were identified during the community visits. As a result, their migratory route has been mapped and mine-impacted communities along that route have been identified. Based on interviews with these nomads, the ALIS determined that 48 impacted communities in 32 districts in 12 provinces cross paths with the nomadic routes. Altogether, there are 152 SHAs in these communities.

The survey was tasked with identifying villages that had been abandoned due to landmines. According to local opinion, landmines played only a small part in determining why people fled their villages. The ALIS identified 943 abandoned villages, only nine of which were abandoned due to the presence of landmines. Drought and massive destruction caused by war are the main reasons why villages were abandoned and remain empty.

Victims of mine incidents. In the LIS, "recent victims" are defined as persons who have been killed or wounded within the 24-month period prior to the survey. The survey recorded 2,245 recent mine/UXO casualties (922 killed and 1,323 injured), which averages to approximately 1,100 victims per year over the course of the two-year period covered by the survey. Of the 2,245 casualties, 90 percent were male and 7 percent female. The gender of the remaining 3 percent is unknown. The fatality rate is nearly the same for males (41 percent) as for females (42 percent).

Age in Years Male Female Unknown Total
0–4 4 3 0 7
5–14 359 50  0 409
15–29 887 37 0 924
30–44 451 35 0 486
45–59 150 11  0 161
60 and up 61 2 0 63
Unknown 116  5 74 195
Total 2,028  143 74 2,245
Table 2: Recent victims by age and gender.

Age in Afghanistan is one of the determinants for describing the serious consequences from landmines. Although two-thirds of the victims in Afghanistan are males 15–59 years of age, 409 victims, or 18 percent of the total, are 5–14 years old.

The ALIS data on casualties show the devastating effect of mine accidents on livelihoods. Comparing current and pre-incident occupations, the data indicate some major changes. Unemployment among all survivors increased by 38 percent, and there were notable decreases in the percentage of farmers, herders, military personnel, deminers and laborers among the survivors—all occupations requiring mobility over difficult terrain (a challenge for any landmine/UXO survivor who becomes an amputee)—and increases in the numbers of them doing household work.

The ALIS data show 664 communities—or 28 percent of the 2,368 impacted communities—recorded recent victims. Twenty-six communities reported having nine or more recent victims including three communities reporting 22, 33 and 35 recent victims.

Type of blockage Impacted Communities SHAs Percentage of estimated blocked area
Number Percentage Population Number Percentage
Pasture 1,691  71  2,997,911 3,318 74 81
Rain-fed cropland 660 28 1,333,738 1,525 34 32
Roads 431 18  797,916 927 21 33
Water 169   7 241,906 370 8 6
Housing 312 13 620,620 734 16 18
Irrigated cropland 453 19 900,739 1,070 24 24
Development & economic activities 217  9 441,126 472 10 11
Table 3: Percentage of communities reporting blocked access. Note: Percentages do not add up to 100 percent because a given community may see its access blocked to more than one resource or institutional area.

Blockages. The most commonly reported economic blockage was pastureland, which was reported in 71 percent of the impacted communities. Cropland was the second most commonly reported blockage.

The ALIS included "development and economic activities" as a potential blockage by landmines, but only 9 percent of impacted communities, or 217 of them, reported this type of blockage.

Consequences for Mine Action Planning

The results of the ALIS indicate a foreseeable and reasonable end to the landmine problem within the next decade. The survey findings made it possible to plan mine action activities with an integrated humanitarian and development perspective that influences mine action strategic planning at the national level. Specifically, the ALIS provided data for the government of Afghanistan to design a national mine action strategy encompassing development planning and new possibilities for a sharply focused casualty-reduction strategy based on a newly established post-ALIS surveillance system. UNMACA believes with good planning and efficient use of resources, the major threats to life and livelihood can be eliminated within five to 10 years through a properly focused program of clearance, Technical Survey, marking and mine risk education. This is a major change from the previously undetermined status of an end-state for addressing the landmine problem.

With the advent of the ALIS, UNMACA has worked with the government and other mine action stakeholders to sharpen mine action prioritization to tackle the deadliest minefields (high SHAs) in Afghanistan by 2007, medium SHAs by 2009, all remaining minefield SHAs by 2013 and UXO SHAs by 2015.

The ALIS data will also assist in further refining the MAPA’s casualty reduction strategy. Additionally, the ALIS results allowed mine risk education programs to develop new strategies for risk reduction that will better use limited resources and encourage safe behavior among various community members by targeting communities based on the level of impact from landmines according to the ALIS.

The ALIS can also impact planning for development. Based on information from governmental, international and non-governmental organizations, as well as the results from the ALIS, cost estimates can be calculated for mine action that affects road construction, power lines and irrigation. However, such estimates require definitively ranked priorities and time frames for development projects.

In order to make more effective use of the LIS, Afghanistan is one of the first mine action programs to create monitoring teams to ensure the database stays current. The Landmine Impact Assessment Teams were assembled at UNMACA soon after the ALIS was completed. They conducted community visits countrywide to both validate and update the ALIS findings. The LIAT-based monitoring system ensures the database is consistently maintained, which, in turn, will allow UNMACA to undertake regular analysis and monitoring to ensure planning is effective. Priorities can be updated on an ongoing basis to ensure high-impact communities are kept at the top of the agenda, including communities newly categorized as impacted because of recent victims or new blockages. By periodically updating the critical two-year window of information driving community impact scoring, UNMACA will base MAPA planning on the best available information.


The LIS has advanced the planning for mine action in Afghanistan. The survey has provided MAPA with an updated and verified database in which baseline data can be used in planning and measuring achievement and success. Significantly, the LIS identified areas seriously affected by landmines as well as areas not affected. The survey erased the idea that landmines are everywhere in Afghanistan.

The government of Afghanistan, the ultimate user of the survey, expressed its satisfaction with the LIS findings at a press conference in Kabul on 8 Nov. 2005 when Dr. Mohammed Haider Reza, the deputy minister of foreign affairs and chair of the Mine Action Consultative Group, said, "With the LIS data, we can now plan to clear all high-impact mined areas by 2007, all medium-impact mined areas by 2009, and meet our Ottawa Convention2 clearance deadline by 2013." Afghanistan no longer has an endless landmine problem. The beginning of the end has arrived.


Patrick Fruchet spent the last two and a half years in Kabul with the U.N. Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan, where he was responsible for relations with donors, the media and the host nation, as well as aspects of strategic planning. He holds a master’s degree in international relations from the London School of Economics and previously worked for UNICEF in Kosovo and Tajikistan, and in the private sector in the United States.

Mike Kendellen has been involved in mine action since 1999 including working with victims’ assistance, mine awareness, landmine impact surveys and assessments in four continents. Prior to working in mine action, he managed humanitarian aid projects in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Croatia that provided housing, education, health, social and legal service and livelihood assistance to refugees and IDPs.


  1. A Landmine Impact Survey, or LIS, is a community-based national survey that measures the extent of the impact of the landmine problem in a country, based on the number of recent victims, socio-economic blockages and type of munitions.
  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.

Contact Information

Patrick Fruchet
Senior External Relations Officer
United Nations Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan
P.O. Box 520
Central Post Office
Kabul, Afghanistan

Mike Kendellen
Director for Survey
Survey Action Center
6930 Carroll Ave. Suite 240
Takoma Park, MD 20912
Tel: +1 301-891-9192
Web site: