April 4 is the United Nations International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. It’s an important opportunity to shine a light on the continuing dangers posed by landmines and unexploded munitions on men, women, and children in post-conflict countries, as well as to recognize the men and women working around the world every day to save lives and prevent injuries from these hidden hazards. I am proud that the United States is a leader in this international humanitarian effort and the single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction programs in the world.
We have made tremendous progress over the past few decades towards the goal of giving everyone the opportunity to walk the earth in safety, but our work remains unfinished. Mine action supports global peace and it is imperative that the international community recommit its support to humanitarian mine action.
Children walk to school in Angola past fields marked as landmine hazards. [Photo courtesy of HALO Trust]
In my travels, I have seen for myself the results of this important U.S. investment. This past December, I visited Angola, one of the most mined countries in the world, to meet with government and civil society representatives. We discussed the drastic drop in funding for demining, which happened to coincide with a plunge in global commodity prices. This funding decrease, for example, has severely affected Angola’s ability to make up the shortfall in demining support from its oil revenues. Unless we reinvigorate international donor support, Angola could remain impacted by mines and unexploded ordnance well past 2040. We can save countless lives and limbs if we can move the deadline closer by 10, even 15 years.
I also visited Lebanon and witnessed how the work of the Lebanese Mine Action Center’s mine detection dog program is developing a sustainable capacity that will keep thousands of civilians safe for years to come.
U.S. support for mine action is clear and our programs are supported by the highest levels of our government. In January, Secretary Kerry announced that we would increase our support in Laos to more than $19 million in the coming year. During Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ visit to Washington in February, President Obama announced that the United States and Norway will lead a Global Demining Initiative for Colombia. The President highlighted his request to Congress for $21 million dollars to support this initiative and urged other states to join the effort.
Deminers survey unexploded ordnance in Laos. [Photo courtesy of MAG]
The United States has invested more than $2.5 billion in conventional weapons destruction since 1993. We have not been alone. The mine action community has been able to reduce the recorded casualty rate to 3,678 in 2014. This is still too many people. Yet the Landmine Monitor reported that 2014 was the second year in a row in which financial support from international donors decreased. We must reverse this trend immediately.
Unless people can rebuild their communities, tend their fields, and safely transport goods to markets, development and reconstruction may falter. When we invest in mine action and conventional weapons destruction, we not only protect civilians from explosive remnants of war, but we also enable lasting peace.
The United States pledges to continue to do its part. On this International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, I urge everyone -- governments, civil society, and the private sector -- to increase monetary and technical contributions to humanitarian mine action. Together, we have made so much progress and together, we can more rapidly reach the goal of enabling all to walk the earth in safety.
About the Author: Rose Gottemoeller serves as the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.