Demining Workshop Helps Families in Afghanistan Return Home Safely

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An Afghan deminer clears land for 37 families near Surobi in Kabul province.
An Afghan deminer trained by HALO with support from the United States clears land for 37 families near Surobi in Kabul province. [Photo courtesy of HALO]

Demining Workshop Helps Families in Afghanistan Return Home Safely

People in many communities across Afghanistan face daily dangers from landmines and unexploded ordnance that remain behind as a deadly legacy of over four decades of conflict. As many as 150 people are maimed or killed by such munitions in Afghanistan each month. As Afghanistan strives to reach its goal of clearing the country’s known minefields by 2023 despite ongoing conflicts, a recent international conference called for a focused, team-oriented approach essential to realizing this ambitious goal.

The Afghanistan Donor and Implementing Partners Coordination Workshop for Mine Action, jointly hosted by the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement and the Afghanistan Ministry for Disaster Management and Humanitarian Affairs with the support of the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) on March 27-29, 2017, was one step in this direction.

The workshop of over 90 participants promoted information exchange and cooperation between Afghanistan’s Directorate for Mine Action Coordination, donors, implementing partners, and international organizations. Afghan and American officials, including His Excellency Wais Barmak, Afghanistan’s State Minister for Disaster Management and Humanitarian Affairs, and Ambassador Robert Wood, U.S. Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, addressed the participants, who represented national governments, Afghanistan’s mine clearance organizations, and United Nations agencies.  During two days of formal meetings, presentations and panel discussions focused on landmine clearance in Afghanistan and the challenges involved in meeting Afghanistan’s mine action targets. 

 “The United States is proud to support humanitarian mine action in Afghanistan because protecting civilians is a prerequisite for achieving any kind of peace and stability,” Ambassador Robert Wood said in opening remarks to the workshop.  “Whether children going to school, business people carrying out commerce, farmers cultivating their fields, or shepherds tending their flocks, men, women, and children must be protected from the risk of landmines and unexploded ordnance.  As long as these dangers persist, it is difficult for communities to recover from conflict.”

The first day’s discussions took a broad look at the needs in Afghanistan and the current gaps in funding, with statements from participating donors regarding past and future support. On the second day, discussions emphasized more specific themes of national capacity for mine clearance, new contamination from recent conflict, and assistance to victims of mines and explosive remnants of war. On the third day of the workshop, donors engaged in informal discussions and working meetings with mine clearance organizations and implementing partners.  The panel discussion, No Foot Forward: How Explosive Weapons Continue to Drive Displacement in Afghanistan," explored the connection between explosive hazards and displacement of populations, as contamination is one of the drivers pushing Afghans to leave their country and to avoid returning home. The workshop was capped off with a public event to reach out to the wider humanitarian response and development community.

 An Afghan deminer trained by HALO clears a mountainside for 162 families near Dushi in Baghlan province. [Photo courtesy of HALO.]

From 1993 through 2016, the United States has provided more than $442 million for conventional weapons destruction and demining assistance to Afghanistan.  As of December 2016, implementing partners have cleared over 231 square kilometers of land and removed or destroyed approximately 8 million landmines, pieces of unexploded ordnance, stockpiled munitions, and homemade explosives.  The United States encourages all nations to work together to improve progress towards achieving Afghanistan’s landmine clearance objectives, and to help Afghans return home safely. 

To learn more about the United States’ global conventional weapons destruction efforts, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.

About the Author:  Amy O’Halloran serves as the Program Administrative Assistant in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

Editor's Note: This entry is also published on Medium.com/StateDept