Clearing Landmines, Saving Lives

April 4, 2014
An All-Female Humanitarian Demining Team in Sri Lanka

Today is International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, and while it might not be a trending topic on Twitter, it really should be.  The dangers posed by the explosive remnants of war plague men, women and children around the world.  The United States is proud to be the world’s single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction programs.  We share common cause with all those working to address the harmful effects of indiscriminate landmine use worldwide.

Earlier this week, I attended an event celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Mines Advisory Group.  MAG International is one of nearly 70 public-private partners implementing U.S. funded conventional weapons destruction programs.  The event was graciously hosted by Senator Leahy, a longtime supporter of U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action programs, and emceed by Jonathan Goldsmith, best known as “the Most Interesting Man in the World” -- yes, that one.

Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller, joined by actor Jonathan Goldsmith, participates in an event honoring humanitarian demining on April 2, 2014, at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. [Photo courtesy of Lucie Thiolliere/ Mines Advisory Group]

The event’s attendees were treated to an amazing photo exhibition by Sean Sutton.  His photographs beautifully illustrate not only the hardship that communities face from weapons like landmines, but also the hope for the future that international assistance provides.  He was gracious enough to provide the cover photo for the 2013 edition of the State Department’s annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety.

The event gave me the opportunity to highlight some of the work that the United States has been doing on this issue.  Last year, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention celebrated 20 years of dedicated interagency effort to mitigate the harmful effects of conventional weapons.  Our efforts began with the establishment of the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program in 1993.  From this original focus assisting communities and nations to overcome threats from landmines and explosive remnants of war, we expanded the program to include activities to address the threat from at-risk conventional weapons and munitions.

This unique investment in peace and security not only funds the survey and clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance, but also medical rehabilitation and vocational training for those injured by these devices; community outreach to prevent further injuries; and essential investments in research and development of new life-saving technologies.  Together, these combined efforts help make post-conflict communities safer and set the stage for their recovery and development.

Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $2.2 billion in aid in over 90 countries to really advance this effort and help overcome threats from landmines and explosive remnants of war.  These include unexploded bombs, artillery shells and mortars, as well as the destruction of excess loosely secured or otherwise at-risk weapons and ordnance.  Our efforts have assisted 15 countries around the world to become landmine-free and have helped to dramatically reduce the world’s annual landmine casualty rate.  In 1999, experts estimated there were approximately 9,100 landmine casualties per year.  According to the Landmine Monitor, new reported casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war totaled less than 4,000 in 2012. 

Of course, the United States is not alone in these efforts.  We work with the United Nations Mine Action Service, the Mine Action Support Group, the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining, the Organization of American States, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, NATO, and as mentioned, nearly 70 public-private partners.   

Together, we are making a difference -- saving lives and fostering stability in every region of the world, but we still have lots of work to do.  First up -- share this article and help us spread the word! 

To learn more about our efforts, click here.

About the Author: Rose Gottemoeller is Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

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