The Month in Mines, March 2017

So, the big news lately featured a certain second son of Princess Diana and his efforts on behalf of a landmine free world by 2025.  At Kensington Palace on April 4th, Prince Harry delivered a powerful speech calling on people and nations to commit to a mine free world.  Harry’s call, made personal by his own visits to minefields in Angola and Mozambique (and presumably by what he saw during his tour of duty in Afghanistan), was quickly answered by the British Minister for International Development, Priti Patel, who announced a three-fold increase in British funding for mine action (The HALO Trust; Mines Advisory Group).  Many other countries have made similar pledges for new or sustained funding for mine action (Landmine and Cluster Munition Blog), but what I have not seen are pledges from the mine-affected countries to meet their obligations to clear minefields and support survivors.  With new money available, mine-affected countries need to step up and meet the challenge.

 

Somaliland

For the first time, Somaliland’s parliament ordered the deportation of two foreigners who had “disrespected Islam.”  Both of the individuals deported worked for the Danish Demining Group (DDG) which conducts community safety programs including mine risk education and small-scale clearance of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) (All Africa, Danish Demining Group).

 

The Gambia

In the far eastern section of The Gambia, just on the border of Senegal’s Casamance region, a landmine killed a father and his son.  The area is known as a safe haven for Casamance rebel groups, but this is the first known mine in the area (Freedom Newspaper).

 

Egypt

Two civilians were killed by a landmine pace in a village near the border with Israel on the Sinai Peninsula (Al Araby). Another landmine near the Suez Canal killed one person and injured four more.  The mine was believed to have been a remnant from the war with Israel in the 1950s (Ahram). In a third incident on the Sinai Peninsula, three people, including two children, were killed and two others injured when their car stuck a mine (Ahram).

 

Angola

The government of Japan has made a US $550,000 grant to the HALO Trust to help clear the 20 remaining minefields in Huambo Province.  Having already cleared 270 minefields, the HALO Trust is looking to finish the job in Huambo, once one of the most mine-affected areas of Angola (Relief Web).

 

Nigeria

A Cameroonian soldier was killed by a landmine in Nigeria’s Borno State.  The soldier was part of the multi-national force fighting against Boko Haram and he was killed when his vehicle struck a mine in the roadway (Cameroon Concord). To support Nigerian capacity to clear landmines and other ERW, the United States government donated training aids and hosted a humanitarian mine action training program at the Nigerian Army’s military engineering school in Abuja (NTA).

 

Libya

Two Libyan soldiers were injured by a landmine attributed to the Islamic State in the liberated city of Sirte (Libya Observer).  In Benghazi, a military deminer was killed in the line of duty and the Gawarsha neighborhood of Benghazi has been deemed too mine-contaminated to allow for the return of civilians (Libya Observer).

A dozen deminers from the Russian company, rsb Group, have been conducting mine clearance in the eastern part of Libya (The Trumpet).

Michael P. Moore

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

April 17, 2017

 

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My challenge to the snake-oil salesmen

Revising to add Arizona State University’s robot turtle swarm made of cardboard (I wish I was making that up…). Welcome, I guess. 

 

Oh, look: researchers at Hebrew University have come up with an “innovative” technique to find landmines using genetically-modified bacteria that fluoresce when in the presence of explosive vapors (Jerusalem Post). I really, really want these new technologies to work to improve landmine detection and clearance, but over the last five years I have seen a lot of innovative ideas that have received a lot of funding for development but have not resulted in a single cleared landmine.  These include:

Robot Turtle Swarm

The Mine Kafon

The Landmine Boys

Croatian honeybees

Danish plants

Indian drones and

Pianos.

I am sure there are others, which offer great promise, but simply don’t work.

So, here is my challenge: If you will vouch for the efficacy of your innovation and set up a true field demonstration (in an actual minefield or suspected hazardous area), I will fly to your site, at my own cost, and document the test.  If successful, I will shout it from the mountaintops and share with everyone I meet.  If unsuccessful, you will reimburse me for my trip, make a donation to the mine-clearing organization of my choice and publish a full-page ad apologizing to landmine victims everywhere for squandering money that could have been used on tried and true methods for clearance.

Any takers?

Michael P. Moore

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

April 12, 2017

 


Trump Administration proposes 10% reduction in Mine Action support

Today is the International Day for Mine Action and Awareness.  From Great Britain, we are looking forward to new commitments to the the goal of a landmine-free world by 2025, but in the United States, the proposed budget from the Trump Administration threatens that goal.

The Trump Administration’s FY18 budget includes a nearly US $3 billion cut in State Department funding (Politico).  That includes a 10% reduction in the line for Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism and Demining Programs, from $505 million in FY17 to $451 million in FY18:

Capture

According to the Administration, this reduction will have “minimal impact” upon programming.  Well, what would “minimal impact” look like?  Let me paint one scenario.

According to the State Department’s 2016 report on mine action, “To Walk the Earth in Safety,” the State Department invested $154.6 million in landmine clearance and risk education activities across dozens of countries.  However, $63.2 million went to just five countries (Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Laos and Syria).    If we assume that the commitments for these five countries will remain unchanged (because the Obama Administration made landmine clearance a priority for Colombia and Laos; and the Trump Administration’s rhetoric suggests that Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria will remain priority areas as part of the fight against Islamic State), the 10% cut, or $15.5 million, will be made across the rest of the portfolio.  Support for African countries (Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Mozambique, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Zimbabwe) totaled only $13.5 million and any reduction there, especially with emerging needs for mine action support in Mali and Nigeria, could hamper clearance efforts.

Rex Tillerson, the current Secretary of State, spoke of the importance of landmine clearance in Iraq as a means of helping people return to their homes after the ouster of the Islamic State from Mosul (State Department). Mine action has been used as a soft power tool; peacebuilding efforts in Burma, Colombia and Senegal have benefited from US commitments to mine action.  The US support for landmine and UXO clearance in Southeast Asia has helped heal some of the wounds from the US involvement in the wars of Vietnam and Cambodia. But the current Administration values “hard power” in the form of the military over soft power efforts like mine action, despite Tillerson’s remarks.

Cutting mine action funding would be short-sighted and leave many thousands of people exposed to the threat of landmines and other explosive remnants of war.  At a time when other countries and actors are re-affirming the pledge to a mine-free world by 2025, the US should improve upon its past investments, not reduce them.

Michael P. Moore

April 4, 2017

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org