Since 1993, the United States has provided nearly $2 billion in aid and technical support to help more than 80 countries safely clear landmines and other explosive remnants of war, such as unexploded artillery shells, bombs, and ammunition. However, these hidden hazards can linger for decades, making it essential to build local expertise in partner nations that can take control of this serious humanitarian challenge over the long term.
That's why I was particularly proud to recently spend time with a group of men and women from 14 countries as they completed training sponsored by our office that will give them the know-how they need to lead their countries' efforts not only to make local communities safer, but also to “pay it forward” by helping other countries struggling to recover from conflict.
The 16 students hailed from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Colombia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Jordan, Laos, Nepal, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Uganda, and Vietnam. All currently manage demining programs. All of their countries face significant challenges with landmines and other types of unexploded ordnance. The five-week Senior Managers' Course, hosted by our partners at James Madison University's Center for International Stabilization and Recovery and the College of Business, combined class work to build program management and strategic planning skills with guest lecturers from leading international organizations and nongovernmental organizations active in humanitarian demining. These organizations included the Geneva Center for Humanitarian Demining, Mine Action Resources, United Nations Mine Action Service, United Nations Development Programme, The Marshall Legacy Institute, Mines Advisory Group (MAG), and The HALO Trust.
Landmines and unexploded ordnance inhibit development, disrupt markets and production, prevent the delivery of goods and services, and generally obstruct reconstruction and stabilization efforts. By removing these deadly hazards, we can encourage the socio-economic development needed to further the larger goal of promoting stability and security.
Under the Conventional Weapons Destruction Program -- a partnership among the State Department, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- the United States has provided approximately $1.9 billion toward landmine clearance and conventional weapons and munitions destruction in 81 countries. Initiatives funded include:
- Mine clearance projects by 63 partner organizations, such as the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and The HALO Trust;
- Mine-risk education to help endangered residents avoid injury by identifying potential hazards;
- Research and development into new demining technologies;
- Training local demining technicians in affected countries; and
- Supporting rehabilitation programs serving those injured by landmines and unexploded munitions.
There will continue to be mines and unexploded ordnance to deal with for the foreseeable future -- after all, even unexploded munitions left from World Wars I and II are still occasionally unearthed across Europe -- but with the right tools and know-how, the problem is manageable. This was a great group of students, and the time they spent at James Madison University provided an ideal opportunity to share information and lessons learned as well as to network, which we hope will not only help them improve their programs when they return home, but strengthen the overall global effort to address landmines and unexploded ordnance.
The United States is proud to be the world's single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction programs, such as humanitarian demining, and to help these countries build their own expertise and take a leadership role in solving the problem.