Funding Mine Action in an Age of Austerity

In response to the stunning amount of unexploded ordnance in Libya, the United States ($3 million) (State Department) and the United Kingdom (£600,000) (Department for International Development) have contributed additional funds to support demining and explosive ordnance disposal efforts.  First: thank you, US State Department and UK Department for International Development for providing this necessary funding.  Second, how do these contributions fit into the general trend of mine action funding? According to a recent report, government belt-tightening has affected funding for UNICEF and for impoverished children and other vulnerable groups around the world (The Guardian).  Will austerity impact mine action funding as well? 

Globally, the funding for mine action appears to have peaked in 2007 and has since slowly tapered off with a precipitous drop in 2011 (UN Financial Tracking Service).  The Figure below shows mine action funding from 2001 to 2011 for all donor countries.

Source: UNOCHA Financial Tracking Service

Since the Second Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty in Cartegena, Colombia in 2009, we may be witnessing the effects of “donor fatigue” in mine action funding; what IRIN News called the “Landmine Hangover” (IRIN News).  Because of the high cost of demining – one estimate for demining over the next decade is $2.78 billion globally (IRIN News) – and the fact that mine action funding is made on an annual, rather than multi-year basis, donors are approached every year for increasing sums of money to pay for mine action activities.  With a global recession and economic breakdown, governments are enacting austerity measures leaving bilateral donors with less money to contribute to mine action and what money is made available in one year is not guaranteed for future years.  Donor fatigue will compound this effect as donor countries will seek to prioritize short term returns on development funding over the long term investment that mine action represents.

For the United States and the United Kingdom, mine action funding appears to be following two different trends:  the United States appears to be increasing its funding over the course of the past decade, bucking the idea of donor fatigue, while the UK’s funding has diminished from a peak in 2003, almost perfectly conforming to a trend predicted by onset of donor fatigue.

Source: UNOCHA Financial Tracking Service

However, if we exclude Colombia and Afghanistan from the analysis, the decline in mine action funding from the United States and the United Kingdom is much more dramatic and both countries appear to be on a donor fatigue trend, although donor fatigue set in much later in the United States.

Source: UNOCHA Financial Tracking Service

Mine action funding from the United Kingdom has been in steady decline since 2003 with the exception of a minor increase in 2009 which was probably related to the Review Conference in Cartegena.  The United States’s mine action funding increased over the same period, but has fallen off the table after the 2009 Review Conference. 

Therefore, the recent pledges for mine action funding in Libya probably represent only a small, short term increase in mine action funding from these two key donor states.  As fiscal austerity measures continue in both the US Congress and UK Parliament, we can expect to see mine action funding remaining a low priority for the foreseeable future and the high levels of funding in 2003 from the UK and 2009 from the US will likely not be seen again.

Michael P. Moore, September 30, 2011.

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Weapons of Potential Destruction vs. Weapons of Actual Destruction

In Libya, forces loyal to the Transitional National Council have announced discoveries of mustard gas (The Guardian) and uranium yellowcake (Reuters). The presence and location of the mustard gas (yes, the same stuff used by German forces in World War 1) was known to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) knew the location of the uranium yellowcake.  In addition to the monitoring by these international organizations, the United States was using “national technical means” (i.e., drones and spy satellites) to monitor the security of these weapons of mass destruction (WMD) (State Department).  The US did not believe these WMD posed any immediate danger because Libya lacked the means to deliver the WMD; the State Department, through spokesperson Victoria Nuland, even deplored “fear mongering” in the media about the delivery of Libya’s potential WMD by missiles and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction from Libya generally.

However, not seconds later, Ms. Nuland started to stoke the fires of fear herself by expressing concern about the proliferation of man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS).  Small Arms Survey describes MANPADS as “short-range surface-to-air missile systems intended for attacking and defending against low-flying aircraft… Today’s most advanced MANPADS can effectively engage aircraft at ranges up to 8,000 m[eters] (5 miles)” (Small Arms Survey, pdf). Between 2002 and 2007, thirteen incidents of MANPADS attacks on aircraft have been identified; nine against military targets, four against civilian.  Ten events occurred in Iraq and one each in Chechnya, Somalia and Kenya.  The four attacks on civilian aircraft resulted in one plane crashing with 11 fatalities, another making an emergency landing after being severely damaged and two misses (Small Arms Survey, pdf).  Perhaps the most famous incident involving MANPADS is the 1994 shooting down of the plane carrying the Rwandan and Burundian presidents that sparked the genocide in Rwanda (Small Arms Survey, pdf). 

According to Ms. Nuland, the United States’s main proliferation concern from Libya’s military stockpiles is MANPADS.  The extant of possible MANPADS proliferation is unknown, Libya’s stockpile of the weapon “was not something that Qadhafi was in the business of publishing, and he was… good at hiding stuff;” but Nuland was clear that the US does not have any concerns about hidden chemical weapons or radiological materials.  The US’s concern about MANPADS proliferation comes from “scattered intelligence indicating that weapons stolen from Gaddafi’s stockpiles may have made their way to insurgents or militants in nearby countries, such as Niger, and North African nations” (Reuters).  Those “insurgents or militants” includes Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Al Qaeda branch active in Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Tunisia (Council on Foreign Relations) raising the spectre that terrorists could start to target commercial aircraft flying over North Africa.

In response to these concerns, the US has provided $3 million to Mines Advisory Group and the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action to train Libyans in the dismantling and destruction of MANPADS.  Mines Advisory Group has so far destroyed 8,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance since March 2011, including “anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, sub-munitions and surface-to-air missiles” (Mines Advisory Group).  Overall, US-funded mine action has “cleared over 450,000 square meters of land and destroyed over 5.8 tons of munitions, including five MANPADS” (State Department).  Please re-read that statement.  Five MANPADS, each of which weighs about 50 pounds, out of almost 12,000 pounds of explosive material.  In sheer weight, number and explosive capacity, other pieces of ordnance exceed MANPADS by several orders of magnitude.  Despite the high level of fear about MANPADS, as expressed by the US State Department, the reality on the ground is this: landmines are the greater threat right now.

According to one blogger:

“The number of landmines planted by Gaddafi troops in the district between Ajdabiya and Sirte towns, is estimated at 60 thousand anti-personnel and anti-armour landmines. The engineering corps of the Libyan NTC national army has cleared 21 thousand of them up to the present. The district around al-Brega is the largest land-mined zone in Libya, where many army and civilian victims were hit by landmines” (Live Libya Updates, February 17th).

The distance, by road, between Ajdabiya and Sirte is 409 kilometers, so there are almost 150 landmines per kilometer between Ajdabiya and Sirte, one every 20 feet.  Although NTC forces have cleared more than 21,000 mines (again, compared to five MANPADS), another 40,000 remain just along Libya’s coastal highway.  One estimate suggests that 18 months will be needed to clear all of the mines from around Libya’s oil infrastructure, but that would leave other minefields untouched (The Energy Report). 

Prior to the current conflict, “Gaddafi’s regime placed millions of land mines along Libya’s eastern and southern borders with Egypt and Chad… There are also millions of unexploded remnants still leftover from World War II on Libya’s northeast coast” (The Global Post).  For comparison, Sri Lanka, with half a million landmines from its decades of civil wars will require a decade or more to clear (Times of India).  Clearing Libya’s minefields could take generations.  Casualties from landmines in Libya have yet to be compiled, but the Global Post reported three civilian casualties near Ajdabiya and five deminer casualties near the Tunisian border; the Landmine Monitor recorded “over a period of six weeks in 2011, there were 13 reported casualties from ERW in Misrata alone.”  In 2009, the last year for which data was available, only a dozen landmine and ERW injuries were reported (The Monitor).

Despite the imminent and very real hazard from landmines, the United States is focused on MANPADS. Reporting on information from an anonymous State Department source, the Washington Post said “MANPADs pose a serious danger. While many of the aging rockets may not work, the Soviet-era man-portable air defense systems require no special training to operate and officials say prices have fallen on the regional black market, suggesting some of Gadhafi’s stores have been sold… [A] U.S. official said the terror threat was related to weapons such as MANPADs may have been obtained by terrorists affiliated with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb” (Washington Post, emphasis added).

Aviation Week discounts the threat from MANPADS, saying “A top official from Russian KBM Machine-building design bureau confirmed it was his company that supplied the Libyan government forces with the truck mounted short-range anti-aircraft Igla-S (SA-24 Grinch) missiles recently spotted by the international media… He explained that the Libyan Strelets fire Igla-S missiles but they can not be used as man-portable air defense (manpads). ‘To fire Iglas as a man-portable weapon you need a separate trigger mechanisms that were not supplied to Libya’” (Aviation Week).  CJ Chivers of the New York Times continues: “there is no known evidence that the manufacturer’s claim is false, or that Libya possessed the so-called “grip stocks” that would allow a shooter to fire these missiles from the shoulder, which would make these weapons, once loose, a much more worrisome bit of post-conflict contraband” (CJ Chivers). 

Therefore, the possible proliferation of looted weapons from Gaddhafi’s stockpiles does not constitute an imminent threat to civilian or military aircraft.  The explosive material from the looted stockpiles can be converted into improvised explosive devices (IEDs), but the very real and current threat of landmines in Libya exceeds the potential threat from MANPADS.  The reason for the US State Department’s focus on MANPADS instead of landmines is simple: landmines in Libya are only a threat to Libyans and persons on the ground in Libya.  MANPADS pose a potential threat to people outside of Libya (or flying over Libya and Libya’s neighboring states at less than the cruising altitudes used by civilian aviation) and that potential threat is enough to create media attention and provide funding for MANPADS destruction in Libya.  My ask to the State Department is this: even if all of Libya’s MANPADS are found, secured and destroyed, continue to fund and support demining and destruction of landmines in Libya. 

Michael P. Moore, September 27, 2011.


Inspired by a Photo: Female Deminers in Africa

At the Empty Quarter Gallery in the United Arab Emirates, a new show “Sahara Surreal” (open from September 7 to October 14, 2011 in Dubai) “trails the bandwidth of 21st century life in the Great Desert, unhinging stereotypes along the way.” 

The Empty Quarter Gallery describes the Sahara Surreal show in its September 2011 newsletter (Empty Quarter) and Christopher Lord, in a review for The National describes one of the artists’ contributions as follows:

“Northern Irish photographer Andrew McConnell documents refugee camps in Western Sahara, creating a subdued, intimate portrait of an underreported struggle… McConnell’s portraits have been shot at a bewitching hour of the night – lit by dim campfires and the stars. Accompanying each image is a story about its subject. Mariam Zaide Amar, for instance, is a 24-year-old woman undertaking a perilous landmine-clearance operation.” (Christopher Lord, “Sahara Surreal,” The National).

“Mariam Zaide Amar.” © Andrew McConnell, Photo Courtesy of the Empty Quarter Gallery.

(Hint, when looking at the photo, if I shift my position relative to the monitor, the background becomes clearer. Try looking down on the photo from above).

The photo of Mariam Zaide Amar Lord describes was graciously shared with me by the exhibit’s curator, Elie Domit and Andrew McConnell has also given me permission to post the photo here.  Mr. McConnell further describes his work in Western Sahara on his website (Andrew McConnell) and I will try to discuss the landmine problem in Western Sahara in a future post.

I found the photo Mariam Zaide Amar striking.  She looked so small in the immensity of the image, a decent metaphor for the scale of demining required in Western Sahara.  I was inspired by Andrew McConnell’s photo to learn more about how landmines affect women and about female deminers specifically to understand the woman in the photo a bit better. 

 

Source: LC3 Dataset, World Bank

African women and girls make up 17% of landmine casualties according to the UNMAS and the World Bank’s LC3 Dataset. The gender mainstreaming guidelines for mine action (in addition to featuring NPA’s all-female demining team in Lebanon on the cover of the 2010 publication) recommend “Ensur[ing] that all individuals, regardless of age and sex, enjoy the same level of access to, and benefit equally from, demining activities (including training and employment opportunities) (UNMAS, emphasis added).  Several demining organizations have met this challenge by hiring women as deminers in all-female and integrated demining teams.

Female Deminers: A Brief Introduction

“With regards to mine clearance and female deminers, the resistance is strong in some countries, usually based on the cultural argument that this is not meant for women. Culture and religion is frequently mentioned as an excuse for hiring women. However, where empirical research is conducted, the results seem to support the opposite, and, generally speaking, demining seems to benefit from involving women. Some organisations that successfully employed female deminers claimed that they were more productive than their male counterparts; others reported success and community approval.” (WikiGender)

Norwegian People’s Aid was the first demining organization to employ women deminers back in 1999 and since then HALO Trust, Mines Advisory Group and Swedish Rescue Services, among other demining organizations, have employed women as deminers (Journal of Mine Action).  Of the 13 countries I could identify with female deminers, five (including two non-state regions) were in Africa.  All female demining teams have been used in South Sudan (Journal of Mine Action), Sri Lanka (Al Jazeera), Jordan (IRIN News), Laos (IRIN News), Cambodia (Mines Advisory Group), Mozambique (AlertNet) and Lebanon (The Daily Star).  Integrated teams, with men and women working alongside each other can be found in Somaliland, Laos, Lebanon, Cambodia (Journal of Mine Action) and Croatia.  The United Nations guidelines on gender mainstreaming in mine action describes female deminers working in Albania, Nepal and Western Sahara (as the photo of Mariam Zaide Amar  so clearly demonstrates) (United Nations).  The World Bank’s Landmine Contamination, Casualties and Clearance (LC3 Dataset) also reports at least one female deminer injured in Mauritania in 2005.  The push for female deminers was part of broader efforts within the mine action community to incorporate gendered approaches to the work and some studies suggested that female deminers were more effective than male deminers, clearing 10% more land per working day (Journal of Mine Action). 

All-female demining teams have proven useful in promoting the work of mine action organizations, but the increased awareness may not have translated to long-term impacts.  In 2006, Landmine Survivors Network honored Mines Advisory Group’s Cambodia all-female demining team with the Niarchos Prize for Survivorship (Survivor Corps), but that team has since been disbanded and the members laid off due to funding shortfall.  In Laos, female demining teams “double[d] press coverage of demining and UXO clearance activities in Laos” and increased the number of foreign visitors to demining sites but funding for demining in the country declined (IRIN News). 

Currently in Africa, female deminers work for the HALO Trust in Somaliland and Mozambique, for Action on Armed Violence (formerly Landmine Action) in Western Sahara, and for Norwegian People’s Aid in South Sudan.  Kenya’s army engineering corps has trained women to be deminers (IRIN News) and it is likely that other operators and national armies employ women deminers (e.g., Mauritania’s Army Engineering Corps).  If you know of any such operators, please let me know and I will update this post accordingly.

Michael P. Moore; September 19, 2011.


Unmet Obligation: Delays in Demining in the Republic of Congo

The Republic of Congo (ROC, sometimes referred to as Congo-Brazzaville) is facing a November 1, 2011 deadline for meeting its Article 5 mine clearance obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty.  For many years, ROC asserted that it was either not mine-affected or any mine-contamination was limited to the area along the border of Angola’s Cabinda enclave.  This, despite many years of civil war and the presence of other unexploded ordnance including cluster munitions.  Now, with the Article 5 deadline looming, the Republic of Congo is finally acknowledging landmine contamination and the need for demining.

At the 2009 treaty review conference in Cartegena, ROC claimed that it would be able to meet its Article 5 demining obligations, but worrying signs were there.  Mines Advisory Group, the only international mine action operator active in ROC had conducted some inconclusive surveys but instead of being able to conduct further surveys, ROC officials declared suspected areas of mine contamination to be mine-free.  The Republic of Congo has no mine action authority and the only trained Congolese deminers are a dozen or so soldiers trained by MAG (The Monitor).  This low capacity belies the extent of UXO contamination, with MAG able to report almost a million pieces of UXO destroyed between 2007 and 2009, including almost 5,000 anti-personnel mines.  In November 2010, demining just began at the main airport outside Brazzaville, described as “a powder keg” and posing “a great threat to the surrounding population” (IRIN News).

In June 2011, at the intersessional meetings of the Mine Ban Treaty, the Republic of Congo offered a brief update (AP Mine Ban Convention, PDF).  In that update, ROC revealed that it would not meet the November 1, 2011 deadline for completing demining and, in fact, said that the state did not know the extent of landmine contamination in the country and still needed to develop the capacity to survey suspected hazardous areas. 

The Republic of Congo repeatedly mentioned the need for international support, either from GICHD or from international donors in order to be able to meet its obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty. In the intersessional update ROC offered vague plans for drafting maps and conducting a survey of suspected hazardous areas with the assistance of the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD).  Such a survey would allow ROC to eliminate suspected hazardous areas through land release or identify areas for mine clearance activities.  ROC’s representative then declared that February 28, 2012 should be considered the true deadline for meeting the Article 5 demining obligations and that ROC would submit a formal extension request at the next Meeting of States Parties, a meeting that won’t begin until November 28, 2011; four full weeks after the expiration of ROC’s treaty-mandated deadline.

I believe the Republic of Congo simply waited too long before it began to address the landmine contamination within its borders.  The work of Mines Advisory Group in ROC demonstrated that landmine contamination existed, but when MAG wanted to survey suspected hazardous areas, government officials declared those areas mine-free; possibly to avoid having to demine such areas.  Any possible landmine contamination was blamed on the civil conflicts in Angola and dismissed as spillover from the Cabinda enclave (200 or miles from the capitol, Brazzaville), but the presence of landmines at the Maya Maya airport within Brazzaville’s limits belie such claims. 

Landmine contamination had long been suspected in and around Brazzaville as a result of the conflicts in the city during the civil wars in the 1990s, but never investigated (or admitted to in the possible case of government use).  Had the Republic of Congo confronted this possibility earlier, it may have been able to meet its Article 5 demining obligations, but until technical and non-technical surveys are completed – and whether or not the surveys can be completed by the proposed new deadline of February 28, 2012 should be questioned – the actual scope of contamination won’t be known and a comprehensive plan, as required for any Article 5 Extension Request, cannot be completed.

Similarly to Eritrea’s Article 5 Extension Request, the Republic of Congo is asking for more time to determine the extent of the landmine problem.  Unlike Eritrea, ROC has not recognized that the proposed surveys may mean extensive demining will be required and ROC does not seem to be positioned to develop a plan of action.  I believe the reviewers of the Republic of Congo’s Article 5 Extension Request, if and when one is actually submitted, should press the Congolese government very strongly to recognize what its treaty obligations mean and call attention to the fact that ROC waited until less than 6 months remained of the ten-year demining period to begin a formal survey process.  How many deaths or injuries due to landmines occurred because the Republic of Congo delayed in trying to meet its Article 5 obligations?  Even one is inexcusable.

Michael P. Moore, September 13, 2011


Profile of Uganda’s Anti-Mines Network – Rwenzori

South of Lake Albert, along the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, lie the snow-capped Rwenzori mountains.  Described by Ptolemy almost 2,000 years ago, the Rwenzori mountains are a World Heritage Site, home to endangered primates and boast the third-tallest mountain on the African continent (Wikipedia).  The beauty of the range has been marred in recent years by rebel groups who have launched attacks from hideouts in the mountains.

Background

Of the 27 rebellions against the government of Uganda since 1986, one of the least understood, but most destructive occurred in the western region of the country, along the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. In November 1996, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) invaded Uganda through Kasese district from its bases in the DRC, displacing and abducting people. The ADF laid landmines and the fighting between the ADF and the Ugandan army littered the Rwenzori Mountains with unexploded ordnance (UXO). Those explosive remnants of war and the continuing instability in the east of the DRC means that for the people of Western Uganda, “war looms every morning.”

The Allied Democratic Forces have been described as a “rebellion without a cause,” but I think that’s incorrect.  The ADF had many causes and sowed together Islamic fundamentalists, a defunct rebel groups (the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda), and former soldiers from the Zairean army – forced out when Uganda and Rwanda invaded the DRC to overthrow the Mobutu regime.  Funded and armed by the government of Sudan, the ADF waged a long guerrilla war in Western Uganda exacting a heavy burden on the population.  A more complete report of the conflict is available from IRIN News

Figure 1: Map of Uganda. The ADF affected districts of Kasese, Bundibugyo and Kabarole are immediately south of Lake Albert on the Uganda-DRC border. Image courtesy of the Landmine Monitor.

Extent of the Landmine Problem

According to the Landmine Monitor, 420 landmine survivors have been identified in Western Uganda as of August 2010. However, data for Western Uganda is incomplete: “Incidents resulting in death have only been identified in the north, most likely because data collection in the west has been mainly carried out by local survivors’ organizations whose primary interest is identifying survivors. As such, it is certain that people have been killed by mines/ERW in western Uganda who have not been recorded” (The Landmine Monitor).

Anti-Mines Network-Rwenzori

Anti-Mines Network-Rwenzori (AMNET-R) was established in 1999, by five teachers at Rwenzori High School after a Landmine hit and killed three children at the gate of Kibirigha Anglican Church.  Today, AMNET-R is network of school clubs and community groups, including survivors groups, that uses community participatory approaches in mine risk education (MRE) to promote peace, a culture of non violence and protection of human rights. AMNET-R emphasizes respect and observance of human rights and campaigns against all infringements on human dignity because the respect and protection of human rights will lead to a peaceful, Landmine free Rwenzori region, stretching across the Uganda-DRC border.

AMNET-R’s MRE program links surveys, demining and the rehabilitation of landmine and UXO survivors. 

Figure 2: An AMNET-R MRE session with women who farm in mine-affected areas. Photo courtesy of AMNET-R.

Figure 3: An AMNET-R MRE session with the men who may engage in community-based demining or scrap metal collecting, exposing themselves and others to harm from landmines and UXO. Photo courtesy of AMNET-R.

 AMNET-R also locates and marks hazardous areas for demining by the Uganda Mine Action Center’s demining teams.

Figure 4: A valmara type 69 fragmentation landmine. AMNET-R found it near a Bwera hospital in December 2010. Photo courtesy of AMNET-R.

Partnership with Handicap International

AMNET-R has partnered with Handicap International (HI) to build the capacity and technical skills of AMNET-R’s staff, especially in delivery of MRE.  HI developed a specific handbook on risk education in 2010 for AMNET-R and provides ongoing financial and technical support to AMNET-R. HI’s goals in Western Uganda include:

  • Victims of UXO, people with disabilities and support groups are identified, informed and refered to available institutions in the districts of Kasese and Bundibugyo.
  • A directory of stakeholders engaged in the assistance of victims and people with disabilities in the affected areas is created and distributed.
  • The network of support groups and associations enables peer-to-peer psychological support.

In addition to the MRE handbook for AMNET-R, HI has produced radio programs to reach the largest audience possible with MRE messages; MRE posters, comics and t-shirts for children and teenager, whether or not they attend school; and a script for a 15-minute MRE film.

Plans for the Immediate Future

AMNET-R’s plans for 2012 include continuation of the current General Mine Action Assessment (GMAA) in western Uganda and continuing to offer mine risk education sessions in schools and local communities to reduce the risk of injury among people who live in mine-affect environments. This work represents a continuation of AMNET-R’s partnership with Handicap international.

In addition, AMNET-R wants to conduct landmine surveys in eastern DRC to establish the level of the landmine contamination in the districts of Beni and Bunia which border Uganda.  These surveys would serve as pilots for landmine surveys in other parts of North and South Kivu Provinces which have been subject to years of conflict and instability. AMNET-R is currently looking for an international partner to help implement the DRC surveys and would welcome any inquiries.

Contact Information

AMNET-R has a small staff and a broad network of volunteers. Their head office is located in the western Uganda town of Kasese on plot 28 Rwenzori road and they can be reached via email at amnet_r@yahoo.com or directly through their General Secretary, Mr. Wilson Bwambale at bwambalewilson@yahoo.com.

Handicap International UK can be reached via their website, http://www.handicap-international.org.uk/; on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/HandicapInternationalUK; and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/hi_uk.

My thanks to Wilson Bwambale (AMNET-R) and Beatrice Cami (HI-UK) for providing me with the information and images to prepare this piece.  Any mistakes are my own.

moe

Michael P. Moore, September 8, 2011


August 2011: The Month in Mines by Landmines in Africa

August started and ended with an anniversary.  August 1st marked the one-year anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (Cluster Munition Coalition).  The day had a sports theme and was marked in Sierra Leone by an amputee football match hosted by teams from the Sierra Leone Single Leg Amputee Sport Club (August 1) among other events.  August 31st marked the 14th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana (MSNBC), one of highest profile supporters of campaign to ban landmines in the 1990s.  The anniversary recalled her visit to Angola in early 1997 and Bosnia later that year to raise awareness of the plight of landmine victims (YouTube, part 1 of 3).

In Sudan, four United Nations peacekeepers were killed and several others wounded when their vehicle drove over a landmine in the disputed region of Abyei (BBC News).  Only one of the peacekeepers died immediately, the other three died from their injuries whilst waiting for evacuation, an evacuation delayed by threats from the Sudanese army to shoot down the medevac helicopter (US State Department). 

In South Sudan’s Unity state, an oil-rich region on the border of Sudan and the new nation of South Sudan, landmines continue to kill and injure as rebel groups seek to disrupt communication and travel (Sudan Tribune).

In Somalia, the Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab rebels withdrew from Mogadishu allowing humanitarian aid to be delivered into the famine-struck city (All Africa).  With the withdrawal, Mogadishu residents are now seeking assistance to clear the landmines and explosive remnants of war left in the city from decades of fighting (All Africa).

The rebellion in Libya reached a critical phase (off-topic: at what point do we stop referring to the rebels in Libya as “rebels”?) as NATO-backed rebels seized control of much of Tripoli (BBC News).  After numerous reports of the use of new landmines by both sides – but the vast majority of landmines were laid by forces loyal to Gaddhafi, volunteers from the rebel forces conducted demining activities to clear roads at great personal risk (CNTV).

In southern Africa, the Kavango-Zambezi Peace Park was confirmed during the SADC meeting in Luanda, Angola (National Geographic).  The park, the size of California and encompassing parts of five countries – Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe – contains mine-affected areas in the Okavango River basin in Angola, the demining of which was declared a priority at Angola’s Third National Meeting in Luanda in early August (All Africa).

Lastly, Angelina Jolie, actress and UN High Commission for Refugees Goodwill Ambassador, visited the headquarters of the HALO Trust in Scotland (HALO Trust). The HALO Trust has ongoing demining activities in Angola, Mozambique and Somaliland, but Jolie’s interests were reported as focusing more on Asia than Africa. 

Michael P. Moore

September 2, 2011