JMU Center Helps Lead the Charge for Global Mine Action

From: Public Affairs


Oct. 24, 2008

The issue of land mines may never cross the mind of an average James Madison University student. They and the employees of JMU can walk and drive freely throughout campus without the faintest fear of encountering one of the deadly contraptions.

Unfortunately, that's not the case for the residents of some 80 countries in the world, where thousands of civilians are injured or killed by land mines each year. Jordan, one such nation, is partnering with JMU's Mine Action Information Center to help lead global demining initiatives.

"Jordan has established such a strong leadership position, it's a natural partnership," said Dennis Barlow, director of the MAIC.

Since 2004, seven Jordanian officials have been among more than 100 world leaders trained at the MAIC's United Nations Development Program-sponsored senior management training course. During the five-week training course, leaders receive hands-on training in managing all aspects of a national demining campaign.

On October 20, Jordan's National Committee for Demining and Rehabilitation Director Mohammed Breikat, a graduate of the program, traveled along with committee chair and Hashemite Kingdom Prince Mired Raad Zeid al-Hussein to JMU to discuss further collaboration with the MAIC.

"It's an issue that needs continual attention. Lots of good work has been done, and that work needs to continue," al-Hussein said. "In the U.S., one doesn't get the impression that it is a big issue. But in many countries, it's a terrible reality."

In addition to his national duties, Prince al-Hussein serves on the council of the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining. A decade ago, Jordan had some 300,000 active land mines, mostly along its borders. Now, that number is around 36,000, and the country aims to be mine-free by 2009.

"Jordan is a small country," Breikat said. "It affects the development and the people."

Barlow said that in addition to demining specialist training, the center is now looking to expand into peace training and mine action education in war-torn nations, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since its founding in 1996, the MAIC has worked with organizations such as the United Nations, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of State and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining in securing regions all over the world.

The center also serves as a global information clearinghouse, providing victim assistance, hosting conferences and publishing the Journal of Mine Action.

Working with a mine action center affiliated with a leading university such as JMU has advantages over working solely with independent or government-run centers, al-Hussein said.

"The creativity that you have, there's a lot through academia that we can learn. Via JMU, we can dispense this information to people who need it," al-Hussein said. "JMU is on the cutting edge of mine action."

But the benefit is two-way, Barlow said.

"On the flip side, we learn a lot at JMU," he said. "This has established a global network of training and data. There is a lot of cross-cultural knowledge that's passed back and forth. It's a win-win situation."