Abandoned Improvised Mines (AIM) and Anti-Vehicle Mines (AVM) in Afghanistan: Assessing the impact of two pressing categories of landmines
As mine action stakeholders in Afghanistan continue to address one of the largest contaminations in the world, two types of landmines and their clearance hold wide-reaching impacts across the country. Abandoned Improvised Mines (AIM) have caused over half of all landmine/explosive remnants of war (ERW) civilian casualties in Afghanistan over the past half decade, killing thousands of men, women and children. Anti-Vehicle Mines, while not as deadly, themselves comprise over half of the remaining suspected and confirmed hazardous areas in Afghanistan - blocking vast areas of land. The HALO Trust are the major clearance organisation for both types of landmines, with the resultant changes forming the basis for this impact assessment.
The impact assessments were based on primary research directly with communities affected by AVM and AIM and their subsequent survey and clearance. Working with community members in Herat, Nangarhar, Helmand and Kunar provinces, the research set out to better understand AVM and AIM and the multi-faceted impacts of their clearance.
The impacts of AIM and their clearance: Action against the new killers
Abandoned improvised mines are left over after conflict between armed opposition groups such as Daesh/Islamic State in Khorasan Province, the Taliban and the government. They contaminate roads, paths, fields, pastures, homes and even schools, posing grave risks to people's lives. AIM have killed thousands of Afghan civilians since the inception of their surging usage over the past decade.
The clearance of AIM creates immediate impacts in people's physical security. In all communities where there had been AIM clearance, community members had known of people in the area being killed or injured by AIM - 58 of 60 survey participants and all qualitative research participants in the community in Nangarhar. After clearance, these dangerous items could no longer impact people's safety, lifting a major threat and burden from people's lives.
This threat removal meant that people felt far safer to return to normal activities, including livelihoods activities. The communities where AIM removal took place are rural villages where people are predominantly reliant on agriculture and livestock for their livelihoods. Clearance of AIM meant people could return to their fields and pastures without fear. It also opened up roads and paths to get goods to markets, creating tangible differences in people's abilities to make an income and feed themselves. 18 out of the 60 survey participants across three provinces had roads surrounding their villages cleared of AIM.
Markets were not the only place made more accessible by AIM clearance. Children who were not allowed to go to school out of fear of AIM before clearance were now able to pursue their education again. Accessing healthcare and transporting sick people to health facilities was now made much easier and safer. People could visit families again, attending culturally important events such as weddings and funerals in nearby villages. And children could again not only get to school and support households in livelihoods activities without fear, but also resume sports and leisure activities such as cricket in Nangarhar. There were also positive implications for peace and stability cited by community members. 47 out of the 60 survey participants had felt the stability and the rule of law had either increased (n=13) or increased a lot (n=34) as a result of the AIM clearance. However, the deeply-affecting conflict and improvised mine explosions were still causing people, especially women, long-lasting mental health issues long after their cessation.
People also discussed the negatives - there were risks and reports of recontamination in parts of Afghanistan where conflict has again flared, though the HALO Trust are limited in which IM they can clear due to active conflict. There was also widespread suspicion of remaining mines in the area, which also demonstrated the potential need for greater clearance as communities identified important and far-reaching positive impacts.
The impacts of AVM and their clearance: A view to productive use of lands
While AVM were less directly dangerous to people's physical security, AVM clearance had wide-ranging impacts on people's abilities to provide for their families and secure economic livelihoods. 94 out of the 118 (80%) of the AVM impact assessment survey participants in two villages in Herat responded that they or their households have more farmland to use as a direct result of landmine/ERW clearance. Just under half of survey participants reported an estimated additional income from agriculture resulting from AVM clearance of at least AFN 10,000 per year, (approximately USD 130), a significant amount for a rural Afghan household. Many people in the qualitative research cited being able to grow high value saffron and caraway seeds along with wheat and vegetables. Others said they could increase their livestock usage.
Conversely, where AVM were still present in villages in Herat, agriculture, livestock herding and economic activity was largely constrained. In the two villages reflecting back before AVM clearance, major tolls in terms of livestock loss were remembered.
Recommendations: Addressing Abandoned Improvised Mines and Anti-Vehicle Mines
Six major recommendations were formulated based on the findings of the Impact Assessment.
Donors and mine action organisations should expand AIM clearance, given the lifesaving imperatives and the multifaceted positive impacts.
Measures to address the widespread suspected and confirmed AVM hazardous areas should be accelerated, including with progress on implementation of recommendations posed in the 2018 "AVM in Afghanistan Impact & MAPA Response" report.
The HALO Trust and other mine action stakeholder should continue to redress unintended, negative impacts such as mitigating against the degradation of soils and roads that may result from landmine/ERW clearance.
Enhanced investments should be made into data and research, for mine action in general but also on specific categories of landmines such as AVM and AIM. These investments should improve mine action.
The HALO Trust should continue advocacy efforts, including with potential advocacy partners, in order to call wider attention to the impacts of AVM and AIM as well as their clearance, and also to work towards prevention of widespread and deadly AIM use.
The HALO Trust should further develop meaningful partnerships across the triple nexus of humanitarian, development and peace agendas - building bridges with actors who can amplify impacts such as on safe return from displacement, rebuilding infrastructure and transportation, longer-term rural development, and working to improve mental health and psychosocial wellbeing after conflict and landmines/ERW.