Why Mine Action in Africa Still Matters

Last week saw the publication of the annual Landmine Monitor report which reported a dramatic decline in the number of landmine victims in 2012 (3,628 compared to 4,474 in 2011) and an equally impressive increase in the amount of funding for mine action (US $681 million compared to US $662 million in 2011).  On the African continent, the number of casualties in 2012 decreased by over a third (from 1,054 in 2011 to 672 in 2012) and three African states, Senegal, Mali and Zimbabwe, received international support for mine action in 2012 for the first time in several years.  However, the picture is not quite as rosy as it appears at first glance.  Landmines remain a constant threat on the continent.

While the total number of landmine casualties in Africa decreased, the number of countries with landmine casualties increased from 20 in 2011 to 22 in 2012.  12 countries (Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Somaliland, Western Sahara and Zimbabwe) saw an increase in the number of casualties in 2012.  Of those, four countries (Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Mauritania and Niger) had zero casualties in 2011.  Casualties in Mali increased by 900% over 2011 and the new funding was due to new landmine use by Islamist rebels in the northern areas of the country who briefly seized control.  The increased casualties in Niger, Mauritania and Algeria are likely related to spillover from Islamists attacks in Mali and the proliferation of landmines from the collapse of the Gaddhafi regime in Libya in 2011.

At this week’s Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty in Geneva, no African states declared themselves mine-free and four, Chad, Mozambique, Niger and Sudan received extensions on their landmine clearance obligations.

The threat of landmines will not go away anytime soon.  Yes, progress is being made in mine action, but it is slow and until the work of landmine clearance is complete, there will continue to be new victims.  In addition, new conflicts, such as in Mali, may continue to be accompanied by new landmine use.  Mine action, unfortunately, still matters in 2013 and for the foreseeable future.

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