One afternoon in 1998, Selma Gušo joined her family for a picnic in a field outside Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. While there, she stepped on an anti-personnel landmine and lost part of her leg. Selma is one of nearly 2,000 people who have been injured or killed by landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) that remain from the conflicts that rocked the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.
Almost 25 years after the Dayton Peace Accords ended the fighting, landmines and ERW remain a deadly hazard, especially around Sarajevo and its surrounding municipalities in the foothills of the Dinaric Alps. Today, many people just like Selma still risk serious injury simply by going about their daily lives, and activities like gathering firewood or going for a walk could have deadly consequences.
Additionally, landmine contamination has closed vast tracts of land in and around Sarajevo to productive economic activity, stifling development and preventing Sarajevo’s citizens from moving beyond a conflict that ended two and a half decades ago. Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the most landmine-affected countries in Europe, and even after 20 years of sustained international efforts, it remains among the top 10 nations worldwide that are struggling with the challenge of explosive hazards.
For these reasons, the United States is investing $1.5 million to clear and return more than eight million square meters of land – an area more than twice the size of New York’s Central Park – to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina by the end of 2020. This new initiative, called “Sarajevo Free of Mines,” marks the largest contribution of the United States to a single demining project in Bosnia and Herzegovina in more than a decade.
The United States has contributed more than $115 million for conventional weapons destruction efforts in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1996. Most of this funding has gone toward landmine and ERW clearance operations, landmine risk education to help prevent injuries, medical rehabilitation for survivors of landmine and ERW accidents, and building Bosnia and Herzegovina’s own capacity to manage clearance efforts over the long term.
For the Sarajevo project, the United States has teamed up with the nonprofit organizations ITF Enhancing Human Security, the Mine Detection Dog Center (MDDC), the Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI), and the Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Center to clear land square meter-by-square meter. Over the next two years, demining operations will occur in five municipalities around the capital, including Stari Grad, East Stari Grad, Vogošća, East Ilidža, and Novi Grad. These projects will eliminate most of the explosive hazards from Sarajevo and its environs, making it safe for civilians to go about their lives and fostering economic development opportunities by opening new land to productive use.
This project will produce significant, real-life results for the residents of Sarajevo. After her injury, Selma took part in Children Against Mines Programs, a U.S.-supported initiative implemented by the Marshall Legacy Institute and the Mine Detection Dog Center, which helped her family with a prosthetic and related health services. But as long as local communities find themselves targeted by these hidden killers, the conflict that families have endured will not truly end, and the wounds of war will not truly heal. “Sarajevo Free of Mines” holds the promise of progress in ensuring accidents like Selma’s do not happen again.
Since 1993, the United States has provided more than $3.4 billion in conventional weapons destruction assistance to more than 100 countries and remains the world leader in efforts to clear the path to peace in post-conflict countries. To learn more, check out our annual report,To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.
About the Author: Laura Barela serves as a Senior Program Management Fellow for the Frasure-Kruzel-Drew Memorial Fellowship in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.