Landmines -- explosive devices purposely hidden below ground with the intent to kill and maim -- can lay silent for years or even decades. Yet when disturbed by a farmer tending to crops or a child picking up a mysterious object sometimes mistaken for toys, their once-dormant potential for destruction is unleashed in an instant. Every day, on average, 20 people are killed or injured by landmines across the globe -- mostly in countries at peace while the majority of victims are civilians.
Clearing landmines allows people to live in safety and shape their futures -- free from the fear that the next step could be their last. It means that farmers can work their land safely; children can get an education; and roads, markets and local amenities are open once again. The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) engagement in mine action began in 1993 in Cambodia. Through strong partnerships with the Government and mine action operators, we have destroyed four million landmines and explosive remnants of war to date. This engagement has helped to make over 2,000 square kilometres of land safe for over seven million people. Lives and limbs have been saved, families have returned home, children have gone back to school and to playgrounds, and new opportunities have been opened-up, helping to drive forward socio-economic development.
Mine action entails much more that simply clearing mines. It is imperative to directly address the devastating effect that mines have on peace and development -- and communities’ progress towards the Global Goals. For instance, people living in rural areas of Tajikistan contaminated with landmines suffer higher poverty rates in comparison to other parts of the country that are mine-free. Or look to Yemen, where the presence of mines is hindering the distribution of lifesaving aid to the 20.7 million people now in need of humanitarian assistance. Therefore UNDP is mapping landmine locations in the country; clearing them; informing communities of the seriousness of the landmines; and supporting those who have been injured. Although men and boys account for 85 per cent of all casualties, injured women and girls are particularly affected later in life when it comes to accessing assistance for victims. Therefore, the United Nations (UN) is ensuring that women and girls receive the tailored support they need, preventing them from falling into poverty. And guidelines to help mine action operators maintain gender parity are ensuring that the needs of all people are met.
Landmines continue to pose a daily hazard to communities in Syria to Somalia to Afghanistan to Myanmar and beyond. They continue to be laid in conflicts today including in Ukraine. Therefore, under the coordination of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), critical work remains to be done to achieve a world free from the threat of mines and other explosive remnants of war. For example, more than 80,000 land mines located near the border between Iran, Armenia and Turkey will be cleared by 2023 as part of a joint project by UNDP and the European Union. And new technology is aiding our efforts including in Bosnia and Herzegovina where a mobile app is helping people to avoid remaining danger zones.
The UN Charter calls us to complete our work: to survey, clear and destroy landmines. Combined with these efforts, the international community needs to ramp-up efforts to halt the production of landmines and immediately destroy existing stockpiles. To this end, all states must accede to the Mine Ban Convention. Doing so will silence these deadly weapons of war once and for all and provide the #SafeGround where everyone can build a future.
Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The United Nations Mine Action Service will promote the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action on 4 April 2022 under the theme “Safe Ground, Safe Steps, Safe Home”.