About the Author: Peter Villano is a Program Manager in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
In a small village in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province, a young Afghan man works to remove landmines in his village. Several weeks ago, he was unemployed and worried about supporting his family. He would travel long distances looking for work. Now, he is employed locally as a deminer by an Afghan non-governmental organization (NGO), and returns home every afternoon to see his wife and children.
The Kunar project is a community-based initiative, which centers on the removal of landmines and other unexploded bombs that threaten the local population. In Afghanistan and in other post-conflict countries around the world, mines and other unexploded munitions ─ what we call “explosive remnants of war” (ERW) ─ have denied locals access to arable land, and limited their ability to gather firewood to cook, stones to build their houses, and, ultimately, the prospect of rebuilding their communities. In 2008, mines and ERW killed or injured over 445 Afghans, an average of 37 per month.
This project is managed by a small core staff from the Organization for Mine Action and Afghan Rehabilitation (OMAR), based in Kabul. The United States Department of State has partnered with OMAR in this community-based demining initiative. Unlike most mine action projects in Afghanistan where trained deminers come from elsewhere to remove landmines and unexploded ordnance, community-based demining utilizes a local workforce that is recruited, trained, and employed by an Afghan NGO that oversees all aspects of the operation. In Afghanistan, which has suffered decades of conflict, these projects can last for several months, providing income and economic opportunity to hundreds of families.
Community-based demining in Kunar furnishes jobs that keep young men employed, and perhaps most importantly, establishes trust with local leaders by removing one of the one of largest hidden killers in Afghanistan: ERW. What’s more, the project is not just outsiders coming in to conduct mine clearance; it is owned by the population, thereby reinforcing local governance and reducing insurgent influence.
When this community-based demining project ends, follow-on agricultural and vocational training as well as immediate development projects can commence, allowing locals to capitalize on their cleared land and an available labor force with new job skills. Since these demining projects are planned, coordinated, and run in conjunction with local tribal leadership from the beginning, community priorities are taken into account even before a project is initiated.
Since 1993, the United States has been the world’s leading contributor to post-conflict efforts to remove landmines and ERW around the globe. In 2009, the Department of State will provide over $22 million to Afghanistan alone, enabling the Afghan government and a constellation of local and international NGOs to continue the essential tasks of clearing mines and ERW, caring for survivors of ERW accidents, and destroying or securing recovered munitions to prevent their use by insurgents in future attacks.
Community-based demining represents an opportunity to effectively link Afghan and U.S. humanitarian, development, and counterinsurgency objectives like never before. It offers an Afghan-led solution they stand ready to implement.