Working towards a mine-free Sri Lanka

Friday, 3 April 2015 00:40 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Tomorrow (4 April) marks the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action as well as 10 years since the declaration of such a day for the world. UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Sri Lanka Subinay Nandy shares his thoughts on the importance of this day and Sri Lanka’s own success     Every year, mines, explosive remnants of war, and unexploded ordnance, kill or injure thousands worldwide. The human toll is terrible. The disruption to lives and livelihoods and other costs to communities are equally devastating. For post-conflict nations, it is a threat to the safety and welfare of the people living in or returning to these areas, and constrains reconstruction and recovery activities. Emerging from more than two-decades of armed conflict, Sri Lanka has achieved and continues to achieve fast and successful progress in addressing the threat of mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), while at the same time minimising casualty and injury. Sri Lanka must be proud of its record on Mine Action, clearing over 90% of the identified contaminated areas of land. As we draw closer towards a mine free Sri Lanka, it feels appropriate to mark the 2015 International Day and the 10th anniversary of the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action by reflecting on our collaborative efforts in the Mine Action sector in Sri Lanka. Mine Action is not only about mine clearance. While de-mining, or mine-clearance, is a primary area of work in the sector, Mine Action is also about people and societies. It is about how individuals, families, and communities at large are affected by mine and ERW contamination. It is about removing the threat to the safety and welfare of communities living or returning to the affected areas, and it is about enabling reconstruction and recovery activities to commence. The vision of the United Nations (UN) is a world free of the threat of mines and ERW, where individuals and communities live in a safe environment conducive to development. It is a world where the human rights and the needs of landmine and ERW victims are met, and survivors are fully integrated as equal members of their societies. “More than Mines” This year’s theme for the International Day of Mine Awareness, “More than Mines”, aptly reminds us that while Mine Action is aimed at improving the welfare of people and societies, it also includes the grave risks taken by humanitarians and development agencies. As the UN Secretary General in his message notes, “More than Mines reflects the reality faced by civilians, humanitarians, peacekeepers and development agencies in war-zones and countries recovering from conflict. When explosive hazards block the way, food is not delivered; refugees and internally displaced people cannot safely return home; children cannot go to school; trade is disrupted; development and peace-building efforts are hindered; peacekeeping operations cannot deploy safely”. National Mine Action Program Since the launch of the National Mine Action Program (NMAP) in 2002, the UN has been providing critical enabling support to the Mine Action sector in Sri Lanka. This support, together with the dedication and commitment of all partners involved, has helped ensure a relatively fast process of mine clearance, with remarkably few casualties. Since the inception of the program in 2002, the UN Development Program (UNDP) has supported national partners with the management, implementation, and coordination of the sector. The overall objective the program was to ensure speedy and effective mine clearance and to enable the safe resettlement of internally displaced persons. With financial support from several key donors, UNDP has procured essential mine clearance and survey equipment and provided technical support, contributing to the development of Sri Lanka’s first National Mine Action Strategy and the Sri Lanka National Mine Action Standards. Together, these policy documents have provided a national framework for Mine Action in Sri Lanka, in line with international standards. National Mine Action Centre In 2010, one of the longstanding goals of UNDP’s partnership was achieved with the establishment of the National Mine Action Centre (NMAC). This was an important milestone since the NMAC was a key step in enabling the Government to assume full ownership over the enforcement and monitoring of mine-action policies, and management of the mine action sector. Up until the establishment of the NMAC, UNDP staffed the regional mine action offices, and provided high level technical support to guide prioritisation and quality assurance of mine clearance and survey tasks, preparation of clearance certification, unexploded ordnance (UXO) disposal and Post Clearance Impact Assessments. At the peak of Mine Action activities, many UNDP contracted technical mine action staff were assigned to the national and regional offices. However, from 2012-2013 after the establishment of the NMAC and its capacities being strengthened, UNDP initiated a phased progress of handing over the management and quality assurance of mine action sector work to the NMAC. Mine Risk Education The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) meanwhile, through the national education system and its network of NGOs, community-based organisations, and volunteers, has been supporting Mine Risk Education (MRE), Victim Assistance, and Advocacy in Sri Lanka since 2003. MRE deals with the long-term problem of contamination by ERW for countries that come out of conflict. MRE initiatives are imperative in minimising deaths and injuries of landmines and ERW, especially among children and youth, construction workers, and garbage/scrap metal collectors, who are often prone to risk. By 2014, 400,000 children had benefited from MRE programs supported by UNICEF. High numbers of reports made by affected communities on UXOs is a strong indicator of the impact of MRE, suggesting that many accidents have been avoided and countless lives have been saved. Between June 2012 and June 2014 for example, around 1,812 suspicious items were reported by community members to the authorities or Mine Action partners. Most of the reports received are from areas that have been released for safe return, which demonstrates the importance of MRE as a prerequisite for the return of those internally displaced and during the resettlement and early development phases. UNICEF also provides support to victims and their families through Victim Assistance programs, while Sri Lanka’s public health system and the physical rehabilitation centres devices operated by partner organisations. UNICEF also supports efforts in Advocacy for the ban of landmines in Sri Lanka and has been facilitating the launch of a Sri Lanka Campaign to Ban Landmines. Special recognition for brave demining colleagues Lastly, special recognition must be given to the many brave demining colleagues, who have put their lives on the line on a daily basis to reduce the menace of mines and ERW in Sri Lanka. These colleagues have worked with the different organisations involved in surveying and clearance activities over the years, including the Sri Lankan Army Humanitarian Deming Unit, and national and international demining organisations. A large number of colleagues are women, who risk their lives in mine clearance activities, and play a vital role in teaching people how to live safely in contaminated areas, in assisting victims, in rebuilding communities, and in amplifying the economic and social benefits of mine clearance work. This year, in line with the theme ‘More than Mines’, we recognise their honourable work, while reflecting on our collective efforts, with the Government of Sri Lanka, in strengthening national capacities, educating communities – especially children and women – on mine risks, and jointly moving towards a Mine Free Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka should be proud of the achievements In conclusion, I must note that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the UN, and also marks the 60th anniversary since Sri Lanka joined the UN system as a member state. During the last 60 years, Sri Lanka has contributed immensely to the UN system through both its people and policies that have influenced global thought leadership. Mine Action is yet another area that the Government of Sri Lanka and its partners have shown positive progress, and Sri Lanka should indeed be proud of the achievements. As a country emerging from conflict, Sri Lanka is not alone in facing the tremendous challenge of mine clearance. The UN currently has mine action programs in 40 countries and three territories across the world, supporting Governments in building nations free of such threat. While the UN has supported the Government of Sri Lanka to participate in international platforms to share its Mine Action sector developments, progress, and lessons learned, I hope we find a way to continue this and celebrate Sri Lanka’s exemplary Mine Action achievements. As we mark the near completion of mine clearance in Sri Lanka, and mark the 10th International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, let me reiterate the UN’s continued support to the Government of Sri Lanka in working towards a world free of the threat of mines and explosive remnants of war. My sincere hope is that this vision, shared by the United Nations, will soon be a reality for Sri Lanka. The writer is UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Sri Lanka

Mine Action Sector in Sri Lanka

  The Mine Action Sector in Sri Lanka has been supported over the years by: Government – The National Steering Committee for Mine Action (NSCMA) and the National Mine Action Centre (NMAC). United Nations – UN Development Program (UNDP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Local partners for demining operations – Sri Lanka Army-Humanitarian Demining Unit, Devlon Assistance for Social Harmony (DASH), and MilindaMoragoda Institute of People’s Empowerment (MMIPE). International partners for demining operations – Danish Demining Group (DDG), Foundation Suisse de Deminage (FSD), HALO Trust, HORIZON, Mines Advisory Group (MAG), and Sarvatra. MRE and Victim Assistance Partners - Community and Trust Fund (CTF), EHED – Caritas, Rural Development Foundation (RDF), Sarvodaya, Social Organization for Development (SOND), Handicap International, Caritas Valvuthyam, and Motivation. Donors – European Union, Governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States of America, and the UN Peace Building Fund and UNDP’s (former) Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery.

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