Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Humanitarian Demining Programs
July 2, 2003
The U.S. Humanitarian Demining Program in South Asia
The U.S. Government’s Humanitarian Demining Program seeks to relieve human suffering while promoting U.S. interests. The Program’s objectives are to reduce civilian casualties; create conditions for the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes; reinforce an affected country’s stability; and encourage international cooperation and participation. The Program seeks to accomplish these objectives by supporting a wide range of mine action initiatives including mine risk education (MRE), training and equipping indigenous personnel, landmine survey and mine/unexploded ordnance (UXO) clearance operations in mine-affected nations. Since FY 1993, the United States has committed over $700 million to global mine action initiatives, including research and development.
The Landmine Problem
The Government of Afghanistan has delegated authority for coordination and operational oversight of mine action to the United Nations Mine Action Program Afghanistan (MAPA). While the UN estimates that there are five to seven million landmines in the country, some non-governmental organization (NGOs) claim that official estimates are too high, based on their clearance experiences in heavily-mined areas. Regardless of the number, Afghanistan remains severely affected by landmines and UXO. The most heavily-mined areas are the provinces bordering Iran and Pakistan. Most of the mines are located in agricultural fields, irrigation canals, and grazing areas, as well as on roads and in residential and commercial areas. Security belts of landmines also exist around major cities, airports, government installations, and power stations. An equally significant problem is the existence of large amounts of UXO, which inflicted extensive injuries and destruction even prior to the recent conflict.
MAPA reports that there are some 200,000 survivors of mine and UXO accidents in Afghanistan. Prior to October 2001, landmine/UXO casualties were estimated at 150 per month. MAPA suggests that “mine and UXO injuries escalated due to the new contamination and increased population movement; however, emergency clearance of much of the deadly UXO from highly impacted areas appears to have reduced the casualties from the very high rates experienced immediately after the 2001 conflict.”
United States Assistance
The United States provides its assistance for humanitarian demining activities through the United Nations or through direct funding of NGOs. Since FY 1993, the United States has provided nearly $51 million to support humanitarian mine action in Afghanistan, with funds from the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Centers for Disease Control. U.S. assistance has paid for mine awareness programs, minefield surveys and markings, training of deminers, mine clearance, victims assistance, equipment, and, as far back as 1989, mine detection dogs.
MAPA oversees one of the largest demining programs in the world. Mine awareness briefings to more than seven million people have contributed significantly to lowering the landmine casualty rate. By the end of 2001, Afghani deminers had cleared over 224 sq. km of high priority, mine-infested land and 321 sq. km of former battlefield areas, destroying approximately 210,000 landmines and 985,000 pieces of UXO.
As a result of these efforts, more than 1.8 million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) were able to return home in 2002. In addition, the cleared land has enabled MAPA to provide employment opportunities to over 9,200 farmers and industrial workers, increasing agricultural outputs (valued at $14.2 million U.S. dollars) and livestock production (valued at $43.4 million U.S. dollars).
In spite of the current military situation, MAPA reports that clearance operations have returned to 100 percent of previous capacity, although on-going security constraints limit operations in some areas. MAPA expanded its mine clearance capacities to 253-mine clearance teams in late 2002, employing over 7,000 Afghan personnel.
In the first quarter of calendar year 2002, mine clearance organizations coordinated by MAPA cleared 27,466,205 square meters of high priority mine and UXO contaminated area. In addition, another 76,833,159 sq. m of contaminated battlefield area has been returned to various communities for productive use. This turnover is due to successful survey work conducted under MAPA auspices. In the same period, MAPA reports that 2,083 anti-tank, 37,437 anti-personnel, and 893,500 UXO devices were cleared. MAPA has reported that the clearance of cluster munitions is being achieved at a rate faster than anticipated. All known cluster munition strike sites have been surveyed where access is possible and clearance efforts at those locations have been undertaken.
Fiscal Year 2003 U.S. Assistance to Mine Action in Afghanistan
The Department of State has committed $9 million to support a number of mine action activities in FY 2003. The FY 2003 support package includes:
The Landmine Problem
In March 2002, the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam signed a ceasefire agreement and began planning for peace talks to take place in a neutral country. The 18-year-long civil war left many landmines and UXO in the ground. Because no accurate countrywide survey of the mine/UXO threat has been conducted, an accurate estimate of their numbers and the areas they affect is impossible to calculate. The most heavily-mined and UXO-littered areas are Jaffna in the north and the areas directly to the south of Jaffna. Through the year 2002, more than 300 landmine casualties were reported.
United States Assistance