A Message From Assistant Secretary Puneet Talwar
For more than two decades, the United States has been at the forefront of international efforts to reduce the worldwide threat to civilians from landmines, unexploded ordnance (UXO), and other conventional weapons of war. Just 15 years ago, landmines and other explosive remnants of war killed or injured nearly 10,000 men, women, and children every year—more than 25 every day. Thanks to the concerted efforts of the United States, partner nations, international nongovernmental organizations, and host nations, that figure has now dropped by more than 60%.
The 14th edition of To Walk the Earth in Safety documents the United States’ efforts to combat these threats, the progress we have made, and the work still to be done.
In last year’s report, I highlighted our June 2014 announcement that the United States would no longer produce or otherwise acquire anti-personnel landmines. In September 2014, President Obama took another major step forward, announcing that the United States would not use anti-personnel landmines outside the Korean Peninsula and that the United States would start to destroy anti-personnel landmine stockpiles not required for the defense of the Republic of Korea. These historic policy changes represent another step to advance the humanitarian aims of the Ottawa Convention.
Since 1993, the United States has invested nearly $2.5 billion to clear or destroy landmines, unexploded ordnance, and other dangerous conventional weapons. In Fiscal Year 2014, the Department of State allocated approximately $140 million to CWD programs in more than 40 countries, helping post-conflict communities and countries recover and rebuild. These programs touch thousands of lives all over the world, from children in Sri Lanka who can now safely walk to school, to farmers in Vietnam who can now tend to their crops without fear. Our efforts have cleared aging and unstable ammunition in Kyrgyzstan, and provided medical rehabilitation and vocational training for survivors of landmine incidents who currently reside in Syrian refugee camps.
I’d like to highlight four important milestones from FY2014:
• Comprehensive Survey and Clearance Project in Quang Tri, Vietnam: As part of our increased commitment to removing UXO from Vietnam, we launched a five-year initiative to make Quang Tri Province—home to 700,000 people—free from the impact of UXO. Our ten-fold funding increase for efforts in Quang Tri Province in FY2014 is a clear sign of this continued commitment.
• First Mine Clearance Operation in West Bank: In FY2014, The HALO Trust (HALO), funded by the U.S. government and other international donors, began the first-ever humanitarian mine clearance operation in the West Bank. They cleared and excavated 26,600 square meters and destroyed 344 mines in a single minefield. The Department of State continues to support HALO’s close collaboration with both Israeli and Palestinian mine action authorities, and we share the goal of clearing the remaining minefields that endanger the lives of Palestinian civilians.
• Gender Advancements Among Demining Teams: Reflecting our firm commitment to gender equality and advancing the rights of women and girls, in 2014 the Department of State funded an all-female demining team in Tajikistan, the first and only female demining team in Central Asia. Zimbabwe’s first all-female demining team became operational in January 2015. In Sri Lanka, female deminers are assuming greater leadership roles in integrated male and female demining teams.
• Destruction of Illicitly Proliferated or At-Risk Stockpiles: The Department of State works diligently to ensure that dangerous weapons, including MANPADS, do not fall into the wrong hands. That is why last year, in Chad, our support allowed MAG (Mines Advisory Group) to assess, refurbish, and better secure armories and ammunition stores throughout the country. In Niger, we and our partners destroyed more than 1,000 small arms and light weapons at risk for illicit proliferation. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, our support has enabled Sterling Global to send technical advisors to assist the Bosnian Armed Forces in reducing massive stockpiles of conventional munitions, including destruction oversight and capital improvements to the Bosnia and Herzegovina demilitarization facilities.
Thanks to the tremendous support of Congress and the American people, we will continue to prioritize these efforts because they are in our interests and reflect the very best of our values. As Secretary Kerry said last year, “President Kennedy set for our nation the goal of sending a man to walk on the moon. We did that. Today, we reaffirm our resolve to help all people everywhere to be able to walk safely, right here on Earth.”
Puneet Talwar Assistant Secretary Department of State Bureau of Political-Military Affairs