Mine Risk Education and Awareness in Zimbabwe

A warning to all

A warning to all

For almost forty years, landmines have marked Zimbabwe’s borders. While some of those mines have been cleared, over a million remain.   Communities on the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border have lived with these mines and each days thousands of people accept the risk and pass through the minefields to graze their livestock, tend their crops, collect water and even go to school.  The fencing that marked the minefields were taken down long ago, the metal used for other purposes.  All that remains are the mines.

With over 2,000 reported human casualties and 120,000 livestock casualties, people living in the border communities are aware of the mines and know their location.  Despite the danger, they accept the risk.

A herd of cows cross the minefield.

A herd of cows cross the minefield.

Outside of the border regions, many Zimbabweans don’t know about landmines.  Several individuals I spoke with believed that all of the mines had been cleared and in the interior of the country that is true.  The only landmines left in Zimbabwe are along the border and there is little or no UXO contamination as is found in other countries.  The localized nature of the landmine problem makes it easier to address, but also means that attention from the country as a whole has drifted.

Landmine clearance in Zimbabwe is progressing steadily at the moment, but could take another 30 years or more at the current levels of investment.  With that timeline, a robust mine risk education program for the border communities, focusing on behavior change and reporting rather than awareness, is needed to minimize casualties until every mine is cleared.

In my opinion, more mine risk education is needed in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Mine Action Center (ZIMAC) is able to provide mine risk education (MRE) thanks to support from the International Committee of the Red Cross.  However ZIMAC only provides MRE in mine-affected communities on an “emergency” basis when there is an increase in the number of casualties or when ZIMAC receives a report of a mine or piece of unexploded ordnance (UXO) outside of the border region.  ZIMAC does have an outreach program where they send representatives to regional agricultural fairs, but the number of beneficiaries is unclear. The humanitarian demining organizations, the HALO Trust and Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), have the capacity to provide MRE, but to do so would take staff away from landmine clearance and communities needed MRE can be hundreds of kilometers from current work sites.

One innovative response to this need is the proposed collaboration between the HALO Trust, the United States Embassy and the children’s literacy company, Happy Readers.  Happy Readers is a Harare-based company which has produced a series of children’s books aimed at improving English literacy in Zimbabwe by providing entertaining and culturally-appropriate materials for primary schools.  While Zimbabwe touts a 93% literacy rate, that figure is based upon the suspect belief that primary school enrollment constitutes functional literacy. Happy Readers’s research shows the true English literacy rate in rural Zimbabwean schools is much lower and leads to reduced professional opportunities later in life.

Using the HALO Trust’s expertise and financial support from the United States Embassy, Happy readers will produce a special volume of their children’s books focused on mine risk education.  The book will feature characters introduced in other stories and have a special section at the end with information about how to report landmines and additional mine risk messages aimed at adults.  In my conversations with Happy Readers and the HALO Trust, I understand that the proposed support from the Embassy may not cover the full costs of the volume, but Happy Readers are committed to the project all the same. I support this initiative and hope the international community can find a way to make up the balance of the costs.

A boy holds the picket from a Ploughshare mine. Each Ploughshare is protected by two buried landmines which he was lucky to avoid.

A boy holds the picket from a Ploughshare mine. Each Ploughshare is protected by two buried landmines which he was lucky to avoid.

Beyond what Happy Readers is doing, funding should be secured to enable ZIMAC, HALO Trust or NPA to provide mine risk education to border communities.  Again, the people living in the communities know about the risks, but they accept those risks.  I saw many people using well-worn paths across the minefields, but HALO Trust showed me several places where they had found landmines just a meter or two from the paths so communities need to be informed about the risks in places they think are safe.  Also, I saw a boy holding the stake from a Ploughshare mine and while all of the Ploughshare mines have been cleared, the landmine laid around the Ploughshares have not so people should be warned about metal scavenging in the minefields.  Lastly, minefield markers need to be verified from time to time.  Markers can be displaced by weather, animals or people and while doing so is a crime, there should be a system where the markers are checked and replaced if missing.

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Four Takeaways from the Maputo Conference on a Mine-Free World

States, advocates and survivors came together in the Mozambican capitol of Maputo to review the progress of the Mine Ban Treaty after 15 years of implementation and agree upon an agenda for the next five years. From June 23rd to the 27th nearly one thousand delegates participated in formal sessions and dozens of side events celebrating the Treaty’s accomplishments and preparing for the next phase of work. (Round-ups of each day’s activities, as reported in social media, can be found here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4.) While there were entirely too many moments of note to try and summarize, from the United States’s announcement that it will no longer procure anti-personnel landmines (3rd Review Conference) to the continued confirmations from the host country of its desire to be mine-free by the end of the year (3rd Review Conference), there were four items that particularly stood out for me despite only observing the Conference from a distance of more than 8,000 miles away. These items include challenges from deminers, a defense of the use of landmines, and the continuing challenge of survivor assistance.

“Doing the Math on Clearance Rates”
Co-founder of the HALO Trust and current president of HALO-USA, Guy Willoughby, addressed the Conference’s attendees on Day 3 (The HALO Trust). With over 25 years of experience in humanitarian demining and over 7,000 employees employed in 17 countries clearing landmines, Mr. Willoughby challenged the attendees to “aspire to making landmines history” and reminded states that they had agreed to a ten-year deadline to clear all landmines. The HALO Trust’s forecasting shows that with modest increases in donor funding, all landmines could be cleared from Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Cambodia, Colombia, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Somalia and Zimbabwe by 2025. But, if mine action contributions decline, “Angola will take 28 more years to clear instead of ten… and Zimbabwe 48 more years.” Those delays would mean “thousands more human and livestock casualties, thousands of hectares left uncultivated.” The HALO Trust is widely respected within the mine action community and Mr. Willoughby’s intervention generated the momentum needed for the participants to agree upon 2025 as the goal for a landmine-free world.

“Persistent Failure”
Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) presented a report during a side event on June 26th which assessed the scope of the landmine clearance challenge that remained. NPA listed 40 countries, 24 of whom are party to the Mine Ban Treaty and 16 which are not, that are fully capable of clearing all known minefields by 2019. However, NPA’s report stated that “the primary obstacle to effective and efficient clearance of mined areas is not funding per se, as is sometimes alleged, much less the weather or difficult terrain, but lack of political will to get the job done. In particular, when we look at the Article 5 waifs and strays, such as Chad, Senegal, Turkey, and the United Kingdom (discussed below), it is has been lack of political will that is the major cause of persistent failure to implement Article 5, not the availability or otherwise of adequate funding.” The report goes further to critique the United Nations’ role in mine action saying the UN’s focus on capacity building of mine action centers was “a strategic mistake” with “petty squabbles about ‘who gets the overhead’ between UNDP, UNMAS, and UNOPS.” A better role for the UN would have been “to focus on generating political will at the higher levels of government, creating an enabling environment for mine action.” A further critique of the UN agencies was the fact that they “never sought to gather basic mine action data about contamination, progress in clearance, and victims.” The data problems are evident as mine action operators and mine action centers “are unable to disaggregate land release into cancelation of mined areas by non-technical survey, release by technical survey, or release by clearance, or even to distinguish battle area clearance from mine clearance.”

NPA’s report then lists the criteria for an effective mine action program that is fully able to address any existing landmine contamination. In NPA’s assessment: “The best performing mine action program in 2013 among 30 affected States Parties was Algeria, followed by Mauritania and Cambodia. The most improved mine action program in 2013 was Zimbabwe. The least performing mine action program in 2013 was Chad, slightly below Turkey and then, equally, Ethiopia, Senegal, and South Sudan.”

I love, love, love both of these interventions. The HALO Trust and NPA have decades of on-the-ground experience in landmine clearance and have born witness to what countries are capable of when those countries have the political will to act. Guy Willoughby challenged the donor community to step up and commit the necessary resources to deliver a landmine-free world and NPA called out those countries who have been negligent in their obligations. NPA’s report reflects what I have heard many people say in private conversations and I’m so happy to see them come out and say it out loud. Long overdue. On the flip side, here are the two things that I did not like so much:

“Harmonizing Military Necessity with Humanitarian Concerns”
I do not envy the Indian and Chinese delegations at the Maputo Conference which participated as observers since neither country has signed or acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty. The Indian delegation stated that the Mine Ban Treaty was unnecessary as “the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons provides the appropriate legal framework for harmonizing military necessity with humanitarian concerns” and defended the need for anti-personnel landmines as part of “the legitimate defence requirements of States, particularly those with long borders.” Despite its support for “a world free of the threat of landmines,” India’s “national security concerns oblige us currently to stay out of the Convention” (3rd Review Conference).

The Chinese delegation admitted to keeping “a very limited number” of anti-personnel landmines in its stockpile “for defence purpose.” These mines are compliant with the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons but absolutely banned by the Mine Ban Treaty. Also, in a challenge to the Mine Ban Treaty’s Article 5 which obligates States to clear known minefields within their territory, China advocated for “the principle of ‘user to clear’” to “accelerate the elimination of the landmine scourge.” The “user to clear” principle would relieve States of any obligation to protect their own citizens from landmines (3rd Review Conference).

By defending the use of landmines and reiterating their “legitimate” use, India and China continue to provide cover to states like Egypt, Morocco and Israel which remain outside the Mine Ban Treaty. As the Special Envoy for the Universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty said, the decision to ban landmines is not a military one, it is a humanitarian one. There is no balance between military utility and humanitarian costs when it comes to anti-personnel landmines; the humanitarian costs so far outweigh any possible military utility as to render the mines mere “weapons of cowards” as Pope Francis described them.

The “user to clear” principle is just wrong and let me offer two examples to show why.  1) In Zimbabwe there are over 1 million landmines that were laid by the Rhodesian government in the 1970s.  Rhodesia has not existed since 1980 so who would be responsible for clearing its landmines if “user to clear” were the rule?  2) In current conflicts, most landmine users are rebel groups, not governments.  Who would be responsible for clearing rebel-laid mines under “user to clear”?

“The Solemn Promise to Mine Victims”
In the Maputo Action Plan, the States Parties recommitted themselves to the “full, equal and effective participation of mine victims in society.” The Plan then goes on to say that each State Party with landmine victims “in areas under its jurisdiction or control… will do its utmost to assess the needs of mine victims… [and] will do its utmost to communicate to the States Parties… by April 30, 2015, time-bound and measurable objectives it seeks to achieve… that will contribute to the full, equal and effective participation of mine victims in society” (emphasis added) (Maputo Action Plan). Why, oh why, have States Parties not already conducted these needs assessments and why couldn’t States Parties come to Maputo prepared to discuss their objectives and activities to respond to these needs? Why will States Parties only do their “utmost” to meet these commitments? Why not have the commitments be binding? Because the commitments are not binding – a State can always say that it tried, but could not meet the deadline and still have fulfilled the obligation of the Action Plan – I am afraid that we are kicking the can down the road yet again. If we have made a “solemn promise to mine victims,” why can’t we keep it? How much longer will survivors trust the States when they make pledges that are not adhered to? The Maputo Action Plan says all of the right things, but in the end, there is nothing binding there on survivor assistance and we have once again let down this group that has led the charge for a mine-free world. I wish I was surprised and not just disappointed.

On the whole, the Conference was extremely positive, the Maputo Action Plan can be an aspirational document and hopefully the goal of a mine-free world in 2025 will be achieved. Let’s get to work.

Michael P. Moore
July 9, 2014
moe (at) landminesinafrica.org


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.