UNAMA fact sheet: Mine Action

Originally published
Afghanistan is one of the countries in the world most plagued by landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXOs). Thirty provinces out of 32 are affected, and some 850 square kilometres, which includes 1,585 villages, are contaminated. Mine related casualties injured or killed 150-300 persons per month prior to the events of late 2001. The problem was further exacerbated during the recent coalition military action. Large ammunition depots were hit by air strikes and in some cases this had the effect of spreading UXOs over a wide area. After the military intervention of coalition forces in 2001 there was an emergency phase of mine clearance. This, however, needs to be widened and intensified before the country begins to be safe for the civilian population.
Action so far...

One of the key players in de-mining efforts, the Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan (MAPA), has been operating since 1989. It is comprised of five UN Regional Mine Action Centres (RMACs), the Office of Disaster Preparedness and 15 Afghan organizations, which in partnership with the UN Mine Action Centre of Afghanistan (MACA), implement all activities associated with anti-mine efforts. MAPA personnel provide technical support and ensure the proper integration of anti-mine efforts into wider humanitarian assistance programmes. Afghan expertise, has contributed to MAPA becoming one of the largest, most efficient and cost-effective mine action programmes in the world. It should also be underlined that MAPA is extremely labour intensive, with roughly 90 per cent of costs going to the salaries of Afghans around the country and thus injecting much needed cash into communities.

The Mine Action Programme also works closely with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UNOPS, World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

On 28 July 2002 the Afghan authorities, formally announced Afghanistan's adherence to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (Ottawa Convention). At the same time the Afghan Administration issued a challenge to the international community to rid Afghanistan of landmines more quickly. A strategy was developed to speed up the clearance process and to declare Afghanistan mine free in 10 years time

To meet this challenge the number of Afghan staff working for the MAPA has expanded from 4700 to 7000. The number of manual, mechanical and other clearance teams has also increased from 113 to over 200. Over 54 square kilometres of former battle areas were cleared of UXO; a further 15 square kilometres cleared of landmines; while 28 square kilometres of mine fields have been surveyed along with 55 square kilometres of former battlefields. In addition, the boundaries of contaminated areas have been marked or flagged. To date a total of over 30,000 anti-personnel mines, 1800 anti-tank mines and 660,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance have been collected and destroyed.

Victim assistance has been and continues to be a core activity of mine action. In Afghanistan as many as 84 per cent of mine victims go into debt to pay for their treatment while one adult male in 10 has been involved in a mine incident. To address this critical issue, MAPA coordinates with local and international NGOs providing services to victims. Several of these organizations, throughout the country, provide counselling, prosthetic limbs, orthopaedic services, physiotherapy and employment support such as micro-credit schemes to help victims to earn a living.

In addition to surveys and clearance, mine/UXO awareness and education, a key component of the Afghan anti-mine thrust, has been disseminated through multiple mediums including posters, signs, brochures, classroom presentations (involving role play and games), community participation, radio and film. Current priority target areas for information dissemination and education include:

  • Transit routes and resettlement areas for refugees and internally displaced persons;
  • Emergency service facilities (i.e. hospitals and clinics);
  • Transportation routes for humanitarian assistance;
  • Major reconstruction projects;
  • Primary transit routes
  • Highly populated areas, especially in close proximity to housing or schools.
In the area of technical training and programme development, the de-mining programme has been developing the structures, processes and human resources required for sustainable, effective, cost-efficient and safe national mine action programmes. NGOs working with MACA have also developed, standards and ongoing management and training packages and manuals.

Capacity building has also occupied another key slot in overall anti-mine activities. The Government focal point for mine action is the Office of Disaster Preparedness, which falls under the Department of Mine Clearance. A plan is currently being put in place for an appropriate Afghan Government structure to take over MACA's operation in the next two to three years. This plan will include intensive capacity building programmes with Afghan officials.

Challenges ahead...

In order to address its obligations regarding the Ottawa Convention, the Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan (MAPA), in conjunction with the National Office of Disaster Preparedness, has developed a new strategy for mine action in Afghanistan, which responds to the country's urgent humanitarian and economic needs. This strategy is based on a 5-10 year concept. A period of five years (2003-2007) will be required to clear all mine and UXO contaminated "high impact" areas. This latter term refers to those areas in which landmine/UXO contamination most impede the restoration of community life and economic activities. In the same initial period, all "low impact" areas will be marked, and in the following five years (2008-2012), they too will be cleared. A budget of $300 million over the coming years is required to achieve this target

The actions planed for the next five to 10 years will positively impact security, requiring scaling up activities as well as sustained donor support. It is expected that roughly 420 square kilometres of land will be cleared within five years. This acceleration will bring a sharp reduction in the numbers of innocent Afghans killed or maimed by mines and an estimated 17,000 civilians will be saved from death or disability, with an estimated savings of about US$180 million in reduced medical costs. The critical need is to ensure continued multi-year donor support for humanitarian mine action and to support mine clearance activities that will allow reconstruction projects to proceed.

The number of Afghans working in mine clearance is scheduled to rise to 8,000 by the end of 2003 and eventually to a maximum of 8,800 within the first five years. The number of manuals, mine dog, mechanical and other clearance teams will also be increased. The 2003 expansion reflects the future plan to enhance national capacity and carry out skills transfer to national staff, thus reducing the need for international experts. The Programme invests in both the technical skills of the de-miners, and in training in management, computer, English, and other related skills. MAPA provides equal employment opportunities for men and women, with the latter occupying several of the Programme's key positions. Finally, should all plans go ahead as envisaged, MAPA will be the first UN programme to be devolved to full Afghan ownership - the end objective of the UN's overall approach in the country.

All UN programmes lend support to the Afghan transition process and to the lead role played by the Afghan Administration. In addition to UNAMA, there are some 16 UN agencies in Afghanistan working with their Afghan Government counterparts and with national and international NGO partners. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan heads UNAMA and has overall responsibility for UN activities in the country.