I recently traveled to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates for the first-ever donor coordination workshop for Afghanistan conventional weapons destruction programs. Co-hosted by the Department of State, Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, and Afghanistan’s Department of Mine Clearance, the workshop reflects the international community’s enduring commitment to helping Afghanistan emerge from decades of conflict, and set the stage for recovery by working to safely clear landmines, unexploded ordnance, and other remnants of war.
The people of Afghanistan face one of the world’s most serious humanitarian challenges from these hidden hazards. The 1979 Soviet invasion, several years of internal armed conflict, and the international coalition’s campaign against the Taliban in 2001 led to the proliferation of landmines and other explosive remnants of war. As of December 2014, the Mine Action Coordination Center of Afghanistan (MACCA) estimated that 524.6 square kilometers (202.549 square miles) of minefields and battlefields remain contaminated, affecting over 1,600 communities. Together, we have made significant progress, but much more work remains to be done before Afghanistan reaches its goal of becoming free of landmines and explosive remnants of war by 2023.
Around the world, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs funds conventional weapons destruction programs that clear and safely dispose of landmines and unexploded ordnance; conduct community outreach to warn at-risk populations -- especially children -- about potential dangers; and provide assistance to survivors of landmine-related accidents, such as access to prosthetics and vocational training. U.S. efforts to address this serious humanitarian challenge began in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. Since then the United States has invested nearly $400 million in conventional weapons destruction programs in Afghanistan. Through the efforts of our implementing partners meeting in UAE, which also included Afghan non-governmental organizations, this assistance has restored access to land and infrastructure, developed national capacity to manage mine action programs independently, and protected Afghan communities from potential harm. One great thing about this kind of assistance is that you can see the impact immediately -- where there once was a landmine, it is now clear and the threat to at-risk populations is reduced.
Representatives from the U.S. Department of State, the international community and Afghan nongovernmental organizations meet for a group photo on the first day of the workshop [State Department Photo]
The workshop identified specific challenges, including a decrease in international donor support and increased security threats posed from violent groups. In addition, implementing partners and the international community agreed that the Government of Afghanistan is improving national capacity to handle the problem, and stressed the importance of transitioning the mine action program from United Nations to national ownership.
For me, meeting in person the dedicated men and women working in Afghanistan to make it a safer place was one of the most rewarding experiences of the workshop. Listening to the implementing partners describe their work, it was clear that they are truly passionate about mine action and making a difference. Through initiatives like this workshop, the State Department and its partners from the international community and non-governmental organizations are one step closer to helping Afghanistan achieve its goal of becoming free of landmines and explosive remnants of war.
Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $2.4 billion to more than 90 countries around the world to reduce the harmful worldwide effects of at-risk, illicitly proliferated, and indiscriminately used conventional weapons of war. For more information on U.S. humanitarian demining and Conventional Weapons Destruction programs, check out the latest edition of our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.
About the Author: Brenna Feigleson is a Program Fellow in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA).