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From Interventions to Integration: Mine Risk Education and Community Liaison

Updated Wednesday, 18-Sep-2013 09:29:06 EDT

Mine risk education has become an integral part of humanitarian mine action, as emphasised by the recent adoption of the International Mine Action Standards on MRE.1 This article explores the development of MRE from the perspective of one HMA agency: the Mines Advisory Group. As with many other HMA operators, in MAG programmes, MRE and community liaison—alongside Technical Survey, explosive ordnance disposal and area clearance—have been part of MAG's overall strategy to reduce risk in communities affected by the explosive remnants of war. This article looks at how MAG's approach to MRE has developed and shifted in focus from MRE to CL which, unlike IMAS, the Mines Advisory Group sees as being far broader in scope than MRE.

Mine Risk Education

Most mine risk education programmes have been based on the medical model of injury prevention and supported by socio-cognitive theories of behaviour change such as the Health Belief Model2 and Social Cognitive Theory.3,4 These models focus mainly on individual behaviours and lifestyles. Under these paradigms, causal factors for unsafe behaviour are seen to be located primarily within the target group's knowledge, attitudes, skills and beliefs. This focus on the individual has placed the main responsibility for change on the individual, and developing and disseminating culturally specific educational materials has been a key part of the strategy to promote safe behaviour. From this perspective, the need for an MRE programme is first identified by a risk assessment based on explosive remnant of war contamination and injuries. Programme content and delivery is then determined by normative needs, usually defined by activities and messages MRE practitioners believe a given population needs in order to reduce risk.

As with many mine risk education programmes in the 1990s, MAG MRE programmes targeted mainly the end users or recipient communities through what was essentially a message-based process. Most MAG programmes utilised two main strategies:

  1. Public awareness approaches, including the use of the mass and traditional media and mobile community teams.
  2. Educational approaches (i.e., developing school-based curricula).

MAG MRE teams have either operated as stand-alone units or been integrated with other parts of MAG's operations. In Laos for example, mobile community-awareness teams were deployed ahead of Technical Survey and explosive ordnance disposal teams to disseminate awareness messages and gather data for technical operations. In northern Iraq, MAG has a community-based programme working with schools and the mullahs. In Kosovo, MAG relied primarily on a child-to-child approach. In other contexts, MAG uses integrated teams, such as the mine action teams in Cambodia and Angola. A MAT is a 14-person, flexible, multi-skilled mine/unexploded ordnance clearance team skilled in minefield surveying, mapping, marking, clearance and community mine awareness techniques. A MAT helps to ensure that MAG teams work in close partnership with communities. The community works with a mine action team to identify suspect areas and prioritise clearance and marking needs. Where a need for MRE is identified, the community may also define the objectives of the programme.

While MRE programmes have reached large numbers of people, there is little empirical evidence to suggest that they have resulted in sustained behaviour change; most people who suffer injuries are aware of the risks at the time of injury.5 Despite this knowledge, while MRE has become more sophisticated over the last decade—for example, greater use of a needs assessment and knowledge, attitude and practice surveys to gather baseline data for planning and monitoring communication programmes—it has continued to focus primarily on the prevention of injuries caused by a lack of awareness of mines and/or lack of knowledge of safe behaviour. Few programmes have focussed on preventing injuries or offering realistic alternatives in cases in which the individual is aware of the problem and has knowledge of safe behaviour but continues with high-risk activities. Recognising the limitations of MRE, MAG pioneered what is now known as community liaison.

Community Liaison

Initially developed to improve communications between mine- or UXO-affected communities and MAG deminers, CL developed into three phases: pre-clearance, during clearance and post-clearance. Community liaison is used throughout all stages of the mine action process and helps ensure affected communities are fully involved in and informed about all mine action activities, which allows the community to be confident cleared land or resources are safe.

MAG's mine risk education in Angola.
Sean Sutton / MAG -

Community liaison has now become an established component of mine action. IMAS regards it as a "strategic principle" of mine action and the standards recommend all operators use CL "to exchange information between national authorities, mine action organisations and communities on the presence of mines, UXO and abandoned munitions and of their potential risk."1 The standards also say that CL "enables communities to be informed when a demining activity is planned to take place, the nature and duration of the task, and the exact location of the areas that have been marked or cleared."1 In addition, community liaison may be used to facilitate access to survivor assistance and rehabilitation services and advocate for or facilitate development assistance.

MAG CL teams have helped identify community needs and have developed strategic partnerships with other organisations to ensure that demining has been used to maximum effect and has enabled development. In Angola, for example, MAG cleared water point sites, enabling a non-governmental organization to drill and provide safe water to communities.

Figure 1: An ecological approach to mine action.
Graphic by MAG/MAIC

Concept Supporting MAG's Community Liaison Approach

Unlike IMAS, MAG views community liaison as a broader concept than MRE; from MAG's perspective, MRE is a component of international mine action standards. According to the organization, CL teams are the eyes and ears of its people-focussed approach to humanitarian mine action. From its original concept as a bridge between deminers and the affected community, MAG is developing a more integrated approach to promoting safety and reducing risk. This approach is grounded in systems theory6 and more contemporary approaches to behaviour change—for example, the ecological approach.7 Figure 1 helps to illustrate this approach and highlights the need for a multi-sector approach to first raise awareness and then develop solutions and promote sustained change.

MAG Community Liaison: The Way Forward

MAG CL teams may draw on a number of different strategies and approaches to ensure that community liaison (and mine action activities in general) is integrated into the broader socio-ecological environment in which its programmes operate. These approaches can be divided into three broad themes: establishing strategic partnerships, supporting EOD and engaging with at-risk populations.

Facilitate the establishment of strategic partnerships. MAG CL teams work to identify and develop strategic partnerships wherever possible to reduce risk. These partnerships may be informal or formalised and operate at the level of affected communities, villages or individuals, and commercial and non-commercial service providers, as well as at the policy level. Regardless of the level of formality, MAG works towards developing partnerships that are mutually beneficial, work toward the same goals, share risk, and are characterized by continued dialogue and evolution.

At the village level, for example, this partnership development may include identifying needs and resources and negotiating village levels of involvement and support for clearance. It may also include involving local communities in setting goals and objectives for clearance, agreeing on post-clearance land use and mutually agreeing on post-clearance indicators.

CL may also establish partnerships with relevant officials or groups to facilitate reporting of explosive devices. Depending on needs, this may include providing training on completing report forms, making recommendations regarding the cultural and geographical appropriateness of report forms, and monitoring and providing feedback on response times. Community liaison is also well-placed to either facilitate the establishment of a mine/UXO injury monitoring and reporting system or, where appropriate, incorporate such data into an existing health or injury monitoring system.

As discussed, community liaison is not restricted to communicating solely within MAG to meet MAG's needs, nor only with communities affected by explosive remnants of war. MAG CL teams also develop partnerships and facilitate dialogue with other bodies, such as U.N. agencies, non-governmental organizations, government agencies from all sectors, commercial service providers, other mine action organisations, military liaison officers and other relevant representatives of civil society.

At the service-provider level, MAG may enter partnerships with relief or development agencies to enable the safe delivery of services through clearance. In Laos and Cambodia, MAG has worked in partnership with CARE International and World Vision.

At a more informal level, MAG CL teams may also facilitate partnerships with scrap metal dealers and provide a link to explosive ordnance disposal specialists in the case of live ordnance held in scrap yards.

Support EOD and area clearance operations. MAG CL teams provide support to EOD and area clearance operations through pre-, during- and post-clearance activities. The pre-clearance phase is principally an information-gathering exercise to aid targeting and prioritisation and may also establish reporting mechanisms. In this pre-clearance phase, information may be gathered not only from directly affected communities but also from hospitals, the military, local leaders, non-governmental organizations, police and U.N. bodies. This information is used to prioritise clearance and EOD tasks.

During clearance operations, CL support includes a preparation and detailed planning phase prior to clearance commencing. This support includes negotiating post-clearance land use. During actual clearance operations, CL may include liaising with community members and keeping them informed of the process, and where necessary, renegotiating areas agreed to be cleared or informing communities if technical operations are to be suspended.

The post-clearance phase includes handover of safe land and an evaluation of impact. CL may also identify stockpiles of landmines or other explosive devices and identify and negotiate with the appropriate people to facilitate destruction. All phases may include an MRE component and may also include linking individuals and communities with survivor assistance services and relief and development agencies.

MAG's mine risk education, mapping problem areas with locals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Sean Sutton / MAG -

Conduct MRE and engage with at-risk populations. Where appropriate, MAG CL teams also undertake MRE activities. These activities may include working with schools, training community volunteers and using multimedia tools.

CL teams also seek to engage with high-risk populations that are unlikely to feel able to respond to MRE messages such as "don't touch" or "avoid these areas." These populations are often motivated to handle or tamper with explosive remnants of war for pragmatic reasons. In this case, CL can take on a facilitating role to enable at-risk populations to identify appropriate levels or standards of risk and/or ways of minimising risk. They can then introduce and use community-based sanctions when community members contravene those standards.


Over the last decade, MAG has moved from MRE interventions that focussed on the individual and expert-identified needs to a far broader and more integrated community liaison approach; MAG's approach now recognises that individuals alone cannot change behaviour unless the broader socio-economic environment supports change. Community liaison teams are at the heart of MAG's work and form the basis of its people-centered approach to mine action. This means MAG CL teams not only work with those directly affected by ERW but also aim to facilitate strategic, cross-sector, multi-level partnerships that enable a free flow of information. CL, with its emphasis on community and communication, is best used to facilitate this process.

As Figure 1 above illustrates, safety is a dynamic concept, dependent on not only the individual and behaviour but also the physical and sociological environment. The most effective way to reduce risk, therefore, is to address systematically the environmental and sociological issues contributing to risk, thereby modifying the risk profile of the whole system.

Table 1 provides a practical example from Laos of analysing risk from a socio-ecological perspective. In this example, a risk behaviour, i.e., handling or tampering with UXO, has been analysed using Green and Kreuter's socio-ecological framework.7 Under this paradigm, elements contributing to risk behaviours (risk factors) can be separated into behavioural and non-behavioural causes of mine/UXO injury as follows:

  • Predisposing (motivating)—knowledge, beliefs, values and attitudes.
  • Enabling (facilitating)—those factors that enable a behaviour or situation to occur.
  • Reinforcing (maintaining or rewarding)—factors that provide incentives for positive health behaviours to be maintained. Reinforcement may come from an individual or group, from persons or institutions or society.

Risk behaviour: Men and adolescent boys deliberately handle or tamper with UXO by moving, burning in-situ or opening and dismantling UXO to sell
Predisposing factors Enabling factors Reinforcing factors
  • A belief that they have the necessary skills and understand how to dismantle UXO
  • A belief that some UXO, for example BLU3, are relatively easy and safe to dismantle
  • A belief that big bombs are less dangerous than "bombies"
  • Ex-soldiers have experience of dismantling UXO from the war
  • People do not consider the risk that their behaviour poses to others
  • UXO is seen as a cash crop
  • A belief that burning smaller types of ordnance removes the threat to their families and children
  • Cultural beliefs in karma and fatalism
  • Insufficient reporting of UXO
  • Insufficient capacity to respond to threat
  • Scrap metal and explosives from UXO can be traded to supplement income
  • Few alternative income generation activities which provide similar income in return for investment and dwindling forest resources
  • Vietnamese and Lao traders will purchase bomb casing and explosive once dismantled
  • The scrap metal trade is highly organised
  • Good road access (dry season) linking Vietnam, Laos and Thailand to facilitate trade and movement
  • No fines or sanctions imposed against people who dismantle UXO or trade in military ordnance
  • Implicit approval from authorities
  • Increase in the price of scrap metal
  • UXO accidents through the opening of UXO cause the price to increase
  • No micro-credit or bank lending schemes to provide villagers with the initial start-up cash to participate in small commerce enterprise or income generation activities
  • Increase of consumer goods available
  • When UXO are reported to mine action agencies they either destroy the bomb by "high order" explosion or remove the bomb after rendering it safe, thus removing a cash resource from the village
Table 1: Using an ecological approach to analyse risk.

As the table helps to highlight, reducing risk and preventing injuries require an integrated, multi-sector approach based on the important structural issues underpinning risk behaviour. Therefore, reducing risk is a collaborative undertaking. While explosive ordnance disposal specialists and MRE practitioners have some of the specific expertise required to prevent mine/UXO injury, they need partners if they are to mount a successful risk-reduction programme. This more integrated approach to safety is a central tenet of MAG's mine action strategy, with community liaison playing a key role.


Currently, Jo Durham is the country programme manager for Mines Advisory Group in the Lao PDR. She has worked in MRE and CL in Lao PDR, Lebanon and Sudan and she holds a master's degree in international health from Curtin University of Technology, Perth, western Australia.


  1. International Mine Action Standards (IMAS). Last accessed 17 Oct. 2005.
  2. Rosenstock, I. M. 1974, "Historical Origins of the Health Belief Model." Health Education Monographs, 2 (4), 328–335.
  3. Bandura, A. 1977, Social Learning Theory. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
  4. Ajzen, I. & Fishbein, M. 1980, Understanding Attitudes and Predicting Social Behaviour. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
  5. Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining. 2003, A Guide to Mine Action. GICHD, Geneva.
  6. Germain, C. B. & Gitterman, A. 1980, The Life Model of Social Work Practice, Columbia University Press, New York.
  7. Green, L. and Kreuter, M.W. 1999, Health Promotion Planning: An Educational and Ecological Approach, 3rd ed. Mayfield Publishing Company, Mountain View, Calif.

Contact Information

Jo Durham
Community Liaison Advisor
PO Box 4660
Ban Naxay, Vientiane
Tel: +856 21 450 387
Web site: