Clearing Mines to Save Lives

mine dogs
Mine Detection Dogs, ANAMA

Landmines are easy to lay, but far harder to clear. Once in the ground, they threaten human lives and livelihoods when people cannot use contaminated land. Azerbaijan is one of many countries struggling to clean up landmines in the wake of a conflict. Its mine problem goes back nearly a quarter of a century to the 1988 clash with Armenia over the autonomous region ofNagorno Karabakh.

Highlights

  • Since 1999, ANAMA has cleared nearly 186 square kilometres of land, in the process destroying over 665,000 mines and other explosive weapons.
  • More than 160,000 people displaced by conflict have been resettled.
  • Mine risk education programmes reach over 50,000 children in schools.
  • ANAMA has supported other countries with their national mine action programmes.
  • Clearance priorities are directly linked to people’s ability to reuse land or find employment.

In 1998, the Government called on UNDP for assistance in establishing the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) as a non-military agency mandated to conduct humanitarian demining, focusing on areas posing the greatest threats to human safety and livelihoods. UNDP brought in international experts to train ANAMA staff on all aspects of mine action—such as carrying out surveys to identify mine locations, removing explosives and supporting survivors of accidents. Initially, it also helped mobilize resources and broker international partnerships to support the agency; by 2003, it was ready to assume this role itself. By 2004, ANAMA was operating primarily using the expertise of its  own staff.

UNDP’s support to ANAMA has consistently emphasized the socio-economic impacts of demining. Mine risk education programmes reach over 50,000 children in schools. The ministries of health and labour assist survivors of mine accidents with medical care and physical rehabilitation programmes. ANAMA manages a micro-credit initiative to improve the livelihoods of victims and their families, and oversees efforts such as carpet-weaving workshops that develop new skills.

Clearance priorities are directly linked to people’s ability to reuse land or find employment. In the Alkhanli region, for instance, decontaminating the banks of a local river has allowed farmers to once more draw its water for their crops. Irrigation has been extended to 250 hectares of cultivated lands that produce 500 tons of grain each year.

UNDP has stood by Azerbaijan’s efforts to build its own national institution, recognizing that mine action may continue for decades. ANAMA has grown from a fledgling organization to one fully equipped to clear mines, provide risk education and assist survivors of accidents. Since 1999, ANAMA has cleared and certified as safe nearly 186 square kilometres of land, in the process destroying over 665,000 mines and other explosive weapons. More than 160,000 people displaced by the conflict have been resettled as a result.

Fakhraddin Maharramov, a resident of Zobcug village, lived in a camp for displaced people until clearance meant he could safely return to his land. He says, “We are happy to be back and work on our fields without fear.”

Today, Azerbaijan interacts with a variety of international institutions involved in mine action, facilitating a two-way exchange of knowledge on successful practices. ANAMA has also begun supporting other countries with their national mine action programmes, such as Georgia, Turkey and Afghanistan. Given that dozens of countries still need to rid themselves of mines, Azerbaijan’s success within its own borders should be widely shared.