Our Perspectives

Freeing space for sustainable development: Mine action and the 2030 Agenda


Mine Action in Lao PDR270 million cluster sub-munitions cover most of the territory in Laos, with an estimated 20-30 percent detonation failure rate, limiting both development prospects and access to natural resources. Photo: UNDP Lao PDR

Today, more than 65 countries are reported as being affected by landmines and explosive remnants of war.  According to the Landmine and Cluster Monitor Reports, there were over 6,000 causalities in 2016 attributable to the legacies of past conflicts in countries such as Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Cambodia, and current wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen.  The story of these, and many other war-torn societies, is all too present in the headlines of today; forced migrations by land and sea, people struggling to live with disabilities, crippled economies, ravaged natural landscapes, crumpled infrastructure, and social-political fabrics being torn apart. 

Globally, estimates on the total size of contaminated hazardous areas is difficult to quantify because of on-going conflicts and insecurity. What is known, however, is that there remain millions of landmines and explosive remnants spread across millions of square metres of territory, rendering them dangerous and unusable.

It is important to try and comprehend the enormity of the contamination. Imagine for a moment the scale and impact on the Lao PDR, which has an estimated 270 million cluster sub-munitions dropped by air more than 40 years ago, with an estimated 20-30 percent detonation failure rate, covering most of the country. This is what the country is facing today. At a national level, the impact on development has been significant by restricting access to natural resources and limiting national development options, leaving Laos near the bottom of the Human Development Index.

The contamination is so expansive that the government is still grappling with mapping the actual size and scope of the problem. However, at the level of the individual, less is left to the imagination as the impact on human security, poverty alleviation and livelihoods is lived-out every day by the people who are forced to navigate their lives across the violent historical geographies that impose real risks to their future. 

In a response to some of these challenges, UNDP formulated an integrated Development and Mine Action Support Framework, which focusses on ensuring mine action links to the specific issues of poverty, inequality and exclusion by aligning with the SDGs.  One of the first steps to demonstrating how this could be done was captured in a joint study with the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining entitled Leaving no one behind: Linking Mine Action and the Sustainable Development Goals.  The study found that releasing land, for example, not only had direct impacts on reducing violence and fear (Goal 16), but was also an accelerator of several other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 1 (Poverty), SDG 2 (Hunger), SDG 3 (Healthy lives), SDG 8 (Inclusive growth), SDG 9 (Infrastructure), SDG 11 (Human settlements), and SDG 15 (Ecosystems). 

The study’s findings should not come as a great surprise to those who have seen the benefits of mine action up-close and provides strong evidence for developing national mine action and SDG linked strategies that can help free the constraints to achieving the 2030 Agenda posed by the presence of landmines and explosive remnants of war, particularly in immediate post-conflict and fragile states.  Indeed, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Lao PDR have developed a mine action SDG, Goal 18, demonstrating the national policy and political urgency associated with the issue. 

In many countries however, there is still much work to do in terms of mainstreaming into national development processes.  This has long been a shortcoming of mine action, which is traditionally viewed as a niche activity and not an accelerator of development and change, despite the high visibility brought to the sector with the awarding of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and the involvement of Princess Diana in mobilizing worldwide support for the issue with her visits to Angola and Bosnia and Herzegovina.  

Having worked and lived in many mine-affected countries, this has always bedevilled me, as the issue is solvable and the impact of our work immediate – no more victims!  The humanitarian and development impacts can take time and sometimes are undone through another round of fighting or load of cluster munitions, which leave civilian populations scrambling to redefine their lived worlds and carve out new safe spaces where they too can benefit from the hopes raised by the 2030 Agenda of ‘leaving no one behind.’

Blog post Laos Development and mine action Sustainable Development Goals Sustainable development Agenda 2030

UNDP Around the world