Years of conflict have left millions of scattered and unrecorded landmines in more than fifty countries. Civilians, children as well as adults, are more and more often targets of these sly weapons in times of war and have become by the thousands victims of their deadly legacy in times of peace. Vast areas of land and resources have been removed from productive use. There is growing awareness within the international community that what has come to be known as the “global landmine crisis” has far-reaching consequences and requires a multi-faceted and integrated response.
A broad spectrum of activities make up mine action, including marking and clearance, but also risk-reduction education, victim assistance, and advocacy in support of a global ban. The United Nations has been playing a significant role in this regard, establishing and supporting programmes in Africa, Asia and Europe; focusing the respective strengths of its departments, agencies, programmes and funds; and collaborating closely with Governments, non-governmental organizations and concerned citizens to promote an open dialogue with those affected and those prepared to provide assistance.
In October 1997, in recognition of the multi-disciplinary nature of mine action, and of the requirement for enhanced coordination, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) was established to serve as UN focal point for landmine-related issues and activities. Under its leadership, a comprehensive and transparent policy was developed, encapsulating the key principles upon which UN mine action is based, and clarifying roles and responsibilities within the UN system.
UNMAS is dedicated to the reduction of the suffering caused by landmines and their impact on people and communities. As UN focal point, and in consultation with other partners, UNMAS establishes priorities for assessment missions, facilitates a coherent and constructive dialogue with the donor and international communities on the mine issue, and coordinates the mobilization of resources. It is also responsible for the development, maintenance and promotion of technical and safety standards; for the collection, analysis and dissemination of mine-related information, including information on technology; for advocacy efforts in support of a global ban on antipersonnel landmines; and for the management of the Voluntary Trust Fund for Assistance in Mine Action.
Assessment and monitoring of the landmine threat
One of UNMAS’ main responsibilities is to assess and monitor the global landmine threat with a view to identifying needs and developing appropriate responses. In 1998, five inter-agency and multi-sectoral assessment missions were conducted to this end in Azerbaijan, Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen. Ten more missions are planned for 1999, of which two have already taken place, in Jordan and Lebanon. The aim of these missions is to define the scope and nature of the landmine/UXO problem in the affected countries, to identify constraints and opportunities relating to the development of mine-action initiatives, and to make recommendations for a comprehensive response, including institutional arrangements for the coordination and implementation of mine-action activities. The implementation of general Level I Surveys is often a natural follow-up to the assessment missions. They are designed not only to identify the general location of mined or suspected mined areas, but also to measure the humanitarian and socio-economic impact of landmine contamination. Such surveys focus on collecting information for clearance activities as well as mine awareness and victim assistance programmes in support of a complete national response. The determination of priorities as a result of this process will allow activities and resources to be concentrated on the areas of greatest need. A Level I Survey has been initiated in Yemen in 1998. Additional Level I Surveys are being considered for 1999, in consultation with the Survey Action Centre and with funding provided by donor countries and the United Nations Foundation.
Programme initiation and programme support
Since the initiation of the Afghan mine-action programme in 1988, the United Nations has considerably developed its field activities. In keeping with the UN mine action policy, responsibility for supporting long-term integrated mine-action programmes rests with UNDP. Thus, programmes in Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Laos, and Mozambique, for example, are supported by UNDP, even though most of them were initiated by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and/or the former Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA). As for the Afghan and Iraq programmes, they fall under the responsibility of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and the Iraq “oil-for-food” Programme respectively. For all these programmes, UNMAS remains involved in an advisory and monitoring capacity.
In Croatia, UNMAS continues to be directly responsible for the mine-action programme, the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) acting as implementing partner. However, it is planning to transfer this responsibility to UNDP by the end of 1999, in conformity with the principles agreed upon in the UN mine action policy. In the meantime, humanitarian emergencies are likely to require the establishment of new projects in countries such as Sudan, where UNMAS will be responsible for developing the initial plans.
UNMAS is also supporting mine action in the context of peacekeeping operations. In Western Sahara, about 100 demining specialists were originally deployed between May and November 1998 to verify and clear MINURSO deployment sites, and prepare the repatriation of refugees. As the political process stalled, the mine-action force was reduced to an information cell which continues to collect and disseminate mine-related information and to coordinate EOD and mine clearance operations conducted by Moroccan and Polisario forces. Should the political process resume as originally planned, new clearance teams will need to be deployed. In Lebanon and Kuwait (UNIFIL and UNIKOM) also, EOD and clearance teams remain available in support of the peacekeepers.
Given the scope of the landmine problem, the wide spectrum of factors to take into consideration, and the number of actors involved, the development of an appropriate information management system is a priority for UNMAS. Such an information management system will greatly support proper monitoring, planning, and programme implementation. It will serve the needs not only of the United Nations but of other partners as well. An agreement has been concluded between UNMAS and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining to this effect. The first phase of the project, the development of a field module, has just been completed. This field module will be made available upon request to existing or new programmes.
Quality management and technology
UNMAS remains committed to develop, maintain and promote technical and safety standards for mine action. International Standards for Humanitarian Mine Clearance Operations have already been produced in 1998. They will be reviewed and updated during the course of 1999. Guidelines for mine awareness have also been drafted by UNICEF, with inputs from UNMAS and other partners from Governments and civil society. They are in the process of being finalised and circulated. As for the public health aspect of victim assistance, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has taken the lead within the UN system to discuss with other actors such as ICRC the requirement for additional standards and/or guidelines.
Building on standards and guidelines, training is an essential component of quality management. In a 1997 study the United Nations observed that “middle and senior level management skills are one of the biggest challenges facing training programmes and are central to the task of developing an indigenous mine-action capacity.” An assessment of the training needs of national and local mine-action managers was accordingly conducted by UNDP, in collaboration with UNMAS, in January 1999. The implementation of its recommendations will require the cooperation of all programmes in the field and of all UN agencies at headquarters.
With regard to technology, there is growing acceptance that a more universal application of existing equipment could enable mine action to be conducted more effectively, cheaply and quickly, and with less risk. UNMAS has been called upon to take an important role in this regard, through the collection and dissemination of appropriate information, and the development of standards where required and practical. UNMAS has drafted International Guidelines for the Procurement of Mine-action Equipment accordingly. These guidelines are being discussed with all partners concerned. UNMAS intends to work closely with the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining in this regard.
Advocacy and consciousness-raising
Advocacy and consciousness-raising activities are integral parts of the international effort to rid the world of landmines. In the past two years, UNMAS has taken a lead role in developing materials which stigmatize the use of landmines and support a global ban on these weapons. More than 250,000 consciousness-raising materials including posters, bookmarks, books, videos and stickers with anti-landmine messages as well as the United Nations Landmines Magazine have reached up to 50,000 institutions, decision makers and concerned individuals worldwide.
Minefield simulators and other exhibitions have also been extremely effective in raising awareness, especially in countries which have little or no experience with landmine contamination. The first minefield simulator exhibition was created for a conference in Tokyo in 1997. It has since traveled to the Imperial War Museum in London, is currently in Glasgow, Scotland, and will be traveling to Athens, Geneva and Vienna.
UNMAS has initiated this year the creation of an improved simulator as well as the development of a mine-action CD-ROM to be used as both an instrument of advocacy and a teaching tool. It will also be providing grants to selected mine-action programmes to develop public service announcements for national broadcast.
The vast majority of UN mine-action activities is funded from voluntary donor contributions. Resource mobilisation is therefore instrumental to the success of UN mine-action endeavours. As UN focal point, UNMAS coordinates resource mobilisation and manages the Voluntary Trust Fund for Assistance in Mine Action. Each year it prepares a consolidated “Portfolio of Mine-related Projects” for this purpose, including brief descriptions and budget requirements for all UN mine-action programmes and projects, be they implemented by UNDP, UNICEF, or any other UN agency or programme. UNMAS also liaises on an ongoing basis with the donor community to discuss priorities and funding gaps.
The Voluntary Trust Fund for Assistance in Mine Action (VTF) was established in 1994 to support the overall coordination of UN mine action, to finance the initiation of new mine-action projects and activities, and to bridge funding gaps in ongoing programmes. Contributions received in the VTF amounted to $300,000 in 1994, $16.3 million in 1995, $11.6 million in 1996, $8.1 million in 1997, $11.1 million in 1998, and $1 million for the first three months of 1999. They were used in particular to initiate programmes in Angola, Mozambique, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.
While lives have already been saved, and valuable assets returned to a productive use, the success of mine-action endeavours depends very much on the political commitment of the parties involved, on the overall security situation, and on the effective cooperation of all parties willing to provide assistance. In its capacity as UN focal point for mine action, UNMAS stands ready to facilitate and support all international efforts in this regard.
UNITED NATIONS RESOURCES
- 1998 Report of the Secretary-General on Assistance in Mine Clearance, A/53/496, dated 14 October 1998
- 1998 Resolution of the General Assembly on Assistance in Mine Action, A/RES/53/26, dated 31 December 1998
- Terminology Bulletin 349, Humanitarian Demining, 1997
- International Standards for Humanitarian Mine Clearance Operations, 1998
- DHA Study Report on the Development of Indigenous Mine Action Capacities, 1998 (With country studies on Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia and Mozambique)
- Landmines quarterly newsletter
- Mine action and Effective Coordination: the United Nations Policy, October 1998
- UN website, <http://www.un.org/Depts/Landmine/>
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"Mine Action and Effective Coordination: the United Nations Policy,” A/53/496, Annex II, dated 14 October 1998. This policy was welcomed by the UN General Assembly in resolution A/53/26 adopted on 17 November 1998.