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Hidden Killers in Afghanistan

Updated Wednesday, 18-Sep-2013 09:17:50 EDT

Years of demining and mine action operations have reduced the number of casualties in Afghanistan, and lives are beginning to improve. Yet about eight percent of the estimated 33,000 communities in the country continue to be impacted and 12 percent of those are considered high-impact communities.1

A deminer marks the safe lane after its clearance.

Over 20 years of war have not only destroyed Afghanistan’s rural and urban infrastructure but also scattered landmines and unexploded ordnance throughout the country in urban and commercial areas, towns, roads, irrigation systems and canals, and farms and grazing land.

These hidden killers are an obstacle to resettlement for the millions of internally displaced persons and returning refugees. UXO denies access to farm and grazing land, shelter, and water, and prevents the rehabilitation of infrastructure critical to Afghanistan’s development.

To date, the quality efforts by the Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan have accomplished the following:

  • Survey of over 377 square kilometres2 of high-impact mined area and 608 square kilometres of former battlefields
  • Clearance of 315 square kilometres of high-impact mine-contaminated land and over 636 square kilometres of battle area clearance
  • Delivery of mine risk education to almost 14.8 million people by direct or indirect measures
  • Provision of technical refresher and management training to over 6,700 MAPA staff members

If we look at the summary impact of the above achievement, MAPA has made a remarkable contribution toward the following:

  • Increasing food production, which has improved health and quality of life
  • Increasing repatriation process, which has reduced external aid required to support refugees and IDPs
  • Reducing casualties and fatalities, which has improved the safety and security of Afghan families
  • Increasing access for emergency, rehabilitation and development projects through clearance of access roads and clearance of areas in preparation for subsequent assistance projects
  • Increasing employment opportunities within the commercial sector through increased national productivity as well as for employees within mine action non-governmental organizations
  • Integrating more than 700 newly demobilised ex-combatants into MAPA as a part of the "Mine Action for Peace" initiative, done in direct collaboration with the government of Afghanistan

Despite the significant achievements summarised above, according to the Landmine Impact Survey, there are 2,368 impacted communities (about 8 percent of the estimated 33,000 communities in the country), of which 281 are high-impact (12 percent), 480 are medium-impact (20 percent) and 1,607 are low-impact (68 percent).1

An Afghan deminer clearing a collapsed, landmine-contaminated residential area.

The Mine Action Program for Afghanistan comprises the United Nations Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan and its area offices in seven different geographical regions of the country, as well as implementing partners, both national and international. U.N., non-governmental and commercial organisations together employ over 8,700 people in mine action operations in support of the government’s programme. Over the years, participating organisations have included: the U.N. Mine Action Service; the U.N. Development Programme; UNICEF; the U.N. Office for Project Services; the International Committee of the Red Cross; the Agency for Aid and Relief; Ansar Relief Institute; Afghan Technical Consultants; the British Broadcasting Corporation-Afghan Education Project; Danish Demining Group; the Demining Agency for Afghanistan; HALO Trust; Handicap International–Belgium; INTERSOS; MECHEM; the Mine Clearance Planning Agency; the Afghanistan Mine Detecting and Dog Centre; the Monitoring, Evaluation and Training Agency; the Organisation for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation; and RONCO Consulting Corporation. Assistance was also provided by Cranfield University, Mine Action Information Center and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining.

In 2002, Afghanistan entered a new phase in its development during its transition to a more stable, internationally recognised state. Substantial economic and social developmental resources from international donors began coming into the country, while private-sector activity increased at a rapid rate. As a result, demand for land and the value of land increased substantially. Many infrastructural and social developmental projects were found to be in mine- and UXO-affected communities. Therefore, the tremendous increase in mine action requirements challenged MAPA to both grow and adapt to new realities on the ground in Afghanistan. The mine action programme, in addition to the organisations providing technical assistance to the programme, has risen to this challenge.

The mine action programme has developed a new strategic plan for mine action in Afghanistan. This strategy accommodates Ottawa Convention3,4 timelines, in addition to the country’s urgent humanitarian and economic needs. Paramount in the minds of most Afghans is a desire to reconstruct their country in an environment of peace and stability. This accelerated strategy is a cornerstone of the effort to promote a new Afghanistan, free of deadly remnants of war and the suffering and economic paralysis they cause. For the new Afghanistan to emerge, donor support for both humanitarian mine action and reconstruction mine clearance efforts will be necessary; reconstruction mine clearance must occur in conjunction with other programmes in order to see substantial development.

*All photos courtesy of CEIA.


Khair Mohammad Sharif grew up in Afghanistan and worked for MAPA for 14 years before he left in early 2005 to pursue his Master of Business Administration at Preston University. He continues to be involved on short-term research and development projects as a mine action consultant.

Contact Information

Khair M. Sharif
Former Director
Monitoring, Evaluation and Training Agency
Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan
46 Donald Ave
Nottawa, ON L0M 1P0
Tel: +1 705 444 2185


  1. This information is in the UNMAS Annual Report, 2004. Accessed Nov. 30, 2005.
  2. One square kilometre is approximately 0.386 square mile.
  3. Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction. Ottawa, Canada. 18 Sept. 1997. Accessed 10 Oct. 2005.
  4. Afghanistan has also been a signatory of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons since 1981. For more information, visit Accessed Nov. 30, 2005.