The United Nations’s New Mine Action Strategy

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), on behalf of the United Nations Inter-Agency Coordination Group on Mine Action, released in March a six-year strategy for United Nations actions within the realm of mine action (UNMAS, pdf).  Released with seemingly little fanfare (although UNMAS’s website, www.mineaction.org, has received a snazzy update), the strategy lays out how the United Nations will work with member states affected by landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW).  I would like to highlight a few items from the strategy.

 

The strategy starts, as all good strategies do, with a vision:

The vision of the United Nations is a world free of the threat of mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), including cluster munitions, where individuals and communities live in a safe environment conducive to development and where the human rights and the needs of mine and ERW victims are met and survivors are fully integrated as equal members of their societies.

I am not sure if the phrase “free of the threat of mines” is a deliberate departure from a “mine-free world” but otherwise, I think the vision is an admirable one and, hopefully, an achievable one.

The United Nations acknowledges the tremendous progress that has been made in mine action since discussions were first held about banning anti-personnel landmines two decades ago.  The strategy intends to build on that progress, while also learning the lessons of the last twenty years.  In doing so, the strategy recognizes that the UN works within the context of its member states and provides for UN assistance to be delivered “in a manner that is consistent with the specific needs, requests and legal regimes of each context.”  The strategy also recognizes that it must complement other global frameworks, specifically mentioning whatever replaces the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

 

The strategy re-affirms the fact that mine action is “an essential component of the work of the United Nations” and that “Mine action is relevant across the areas of peace and security, human rights, humanitarian and development. In each, the need for immediate post conflict and emergency responses remains as critical as longer-term capacity building support.”

 

To implement the strategy, the United Nations lists four strategic objectives related to 1) demining and mine risk education, 2) victim assistance, 3) capacity building of national mine action authorities and 4) policy and advocacy.  Each objective is accompanied by a series of indicators and the activities that are intended to achieve the objectives.  I imagine these indicators will be used during the mid-term review to assess the efficacy of the strategy and determine if any adjustments are needed.

To complete the logical framework (vision, mission, objectives, outputs and activities), the strategy lists its “Principles of Partnership in Mine Action” and the “Enabling Factors” which constitutes the assumptions that the United Nations is making.  While the principles are supposed to guide how the UN will work, I can also read them as the expectations the United Nations will have for member states that it provides assistance to.  The principles – clarity of objectives, information exchange, mutual accountability and transparency – are not controversial, but essential to any successful partnership.

The “Enabling Factors” are the contributions required of partners.  Again, these are non-controversial, but very important to achieving the goals of the strategy.  Factors include national ownership on the part of affected states of the problem and actively addressing the problem; political and financial support states and the international community; recognition of mine action’s place within broader contexts of development, human rights, post conflict reconstruction and disarmament; and participation of civil society and the private sector in supporting the strategy.  Long term financial support may be the biggest stumbling block in these assumptions and the language used related to financial support – “predictable,” “necessary,” “sustainable,” “critical,” “effective” and “commitments” – suggests the level of concern that the United Nations has for the availability of funding for the strategy.

 

One last point I want to raise is the commitments that the United Nations makes to strengthen its own capacity.  Of the seven specific initiatives, the fourth, “Update the UN Policy on victim assistance, taking into account the new and stronger normative environment for victim assistance and persons with disability and focusing on the integration of victim assistance into broader disability programs and frameworks at the country and global levels” is near and dear to my heart and I sincerely hope the revised policy provides for a robust victim assistance framework that enables survivors to become “equal members of their societies” as described in the vision.

Michael P. Moore

April 18, 2013


2012 Portfolio of Mine Action Projects, Funding to Date

Each year, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS www.mineaction.org) compiles a list of mine action projects that have been endorsed by the national mine action authorities on a country-by-country basis.  The compilation of projects is then published as the annual “Portfolio of Mine Action Projects” and is widely disseminated in the hopes of securing donor funding for the projects.  Under the Mine Ban Treaty, countries “in a position to do so” are asked to provide support to landmine-affected countries and the annual Portfolio is one means of communicating to potential donor states about the projects that require funding and support.  The 2012 Portfolio includes projects from 20 countries totaling almost $343 million.  2012 is more than half complete and a $233 million shortfall in funding (68%) still exists with most projects receiving no funding; only projects in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are fully funded (UNMAS, accessed July 16, 2012). Projects that have not yet been funded are unlikely to begin before the end of the year and will either be cancelled outright or rolled over into the 2013 Portfolio.

African states make up half of the countries requesting assistance via the Portfolio and as of today, only 22% of the $121 million sought for 71 mine action projects in Africa has been committed.  Only ten projects have received any funding and of those ten, only two, “Humanitarian Mine Action Coordination and Capacity Development throughout South Sudan” (UNMAS) and “Mine Risk Education [in Western Sahara]” (UNMAS) have been fully funded.  Admittedly, the South Sudan coordination project received $8 million so it was both a substantial request and donation, but for there to be only two fully-funded projects calls into question the responsiveness of the donor community to the Portfolio of Mine Action Projects.  The majority of mine-affected countries work directly with donor countries to describe their funding needs and secure the necessary support via bilateral assistance mechanisms.  However, the Portfolio serves the very important function of highlighting areas of need and, unfortunately, the scale of unmet needs.

The 2012 Portfolio is the fifteenth annual edition of the document, but the drop-off in participation and commitments from 2011 to 2012 is stark.  Twenty-nine countries submitted projects for funding in 2011 compared to twenty in 2012 and in 2011 those countries sought 50% more funding (almost half a billion dollars) than in 2011.  In 2011, $131 million was raised by March 2011 (I do not know the final amount raised) and as of July 2012, only $121 million has been raised (United Nations News Service).   In 2010, twenty-seven countries participated in the Portfolio with a combined request of $589 million suggesting that the overall trend is towards less participation.  In response to concerns from donors about inefficiencies, the Portfolio team revised its process between the 2010 and 2011 editions and its usefulness as a resource suggests that it will be a “permanent fixture” within the mine action community (Journal of ERW and Mine Action). 

 

Victim Assistance Projects in Africa

Seven of the projects submitted for inclusion by African States in the 2012 Portfolio have significant Victim Assistance (VA) components.  Five are entirely VA programs and the others fulfill multiple pillars of mine action including VA. These projects come from three countries, two from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one from South Sudan and the remaining four from Sudan.  Of these projects, the South Sudan project has received almost three-quarters of the $600,000 requested and one of the DRC projects received a quarter of the $1.075 million requested; the other five have not received any funding.  Interesting, both of the partially-funded projects are managed by a United Nations program (UNMAS for a VA-only project in DRC and the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre [UNMACC] for a multiple pillar project in South Sudan); all of the un-funded projects are managed by non-governmental organizations.

The victim assistance activities proposed include all of the components of comprehensive Victim Assistance: medical care, physical rehabilitation, psycho-social counseling, socio-economic reintegration, data collection and advocacy for the rights of landmine survivors and other persons with disabilities.  The problem is the number of direct beneficiaries of these programs; from a donor perspective, there is not much “bang for the buck.”  Victim assistance is the most expensive pillar in mine action.  One project in South Khordofan State in Sudan proposed to support 40 landmine survivors at a cost of $93,270 (UNMAS).  This might very well be a realistic budget for the socio-economic reintegration of survivors (the project proposed to provide vocational training and business development grants to the survivors as well as offer psycho-social support and rights advocacy training), but because the beneficiary pool is limited the project is unfunded.  In comparison, the South Sudan project that received almost $450,000 of the $600,000 requested claims to be providing benefits to 50,000 beneficiaries and includes mine risk education (MRE), a pillar with a fantastic cost to benefit ratio (UNMAS).  Compare the two projects: the Khordofan VA project has a per beneficiary cost of more than $2,000 while the combined MRE / VA project in South Sudan has a per beneficiary cost of $12.  A donor would look at the two (political considerations aside) and say that the return on investment in South Sudan is much better than that of Khordofan.

 

Keeping the Portfolio Relevant

Going forward, submitters to the Portfolio should recognize the value of the exercise in communicating to donors the objectives and planned activities agreed upon within landmine-affected countries.  But those same submitters should also work directly with donors to ensure that priority projects are funded.  Every year, projects in the Portfolio go un-funded or under-funded, but still the document is produced and is seen as adding value.  The Portfolio, like the Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor (www.the-monitor.org), provides an annual snapshot and description of the mine action world and needs, but the Portfolio, like the Monitor, needs to be seen as one tool in the resource mobilization toolkit.  For example, Mines Advisory Group (MAG) submitted 12 separate projects to the Portfolio totaling more than $10 million in DRC, Libya and Sudan.  According to the Portfolio, none of those projects have been funding to date, but according to MAG’s website, they have ongoing projects in all three countries (Mines Advisory Group).  MAG does not rely on the Portfolio to fund its operations, but contributes nonetheless, using the annual opportunity to report on identified needs and communicate to the mine action community about priorities and needs. 

Also, because many donor countries require a long lead time to provide funding, by the time submissions are published in the Portfolio, donors have already committed their development and assistance funding for the year.  By submitting projects to the Portfolio, mine action organizations and operators can describe current needs and begin the process of negotiating with donors to identify future year funding for the described projects.

 

Michael P. Moore, July 17, 2012