Recovery Assistance for Landmine Survivors Becomes a Reality at Last

By Tenzin Manell, Associate Director for Cash and Livelihoods, Women’s Refugee Commission, and Bill Marsden, Independent Consultant

In 2019, landmines killed more than 2,000 people and injured more than 3,350. From a schoolgirl in Gaza to a cowherder in South Sudan, from a boy in the woods in Angola to a man visiting his destroyed home in northwest Syria – their lives were taken or irrevocably changed in the flash of an explosion.

Across the 55 countries where accidents happened in 2019, states have struggled and, in some cases, failed to provide even basic services to survivors, their families, and communities.

Humanitarian Mine Action agencies – which are responsible, among other things, for surveying and removing explosive ordnance (EO), including landmines, that remains after a conflict – have at the heart of their work a commitment to improve the safety and security of populations living amidst EO. However, accidents often occur in remote or dangerous places, where few humanitarian agencies ever reach and many EO accidents go unreported.

Men and children are most often injured or killed in EO accidents. In many countries, gender norms mean that men are the primary breadwinners. When they are killed or injured, women and girls struggle to meet the basic needs of their families and frequently resort to high-risk coping strategies, including informal work in unsafe sectors, leaving school, or resorting to transactional sex. For survivors, living with a disability often means living a stigmatized and marginalized life where infrastructure, livelihood opportunities, and social norms obstruct them from navigating everyday activities, accessing medical care, getting an education, and providing for their families and future generations. The resulting caregiving responsibilities add to the existing burden of women and girls and take time away from finishing school and earning a living – and, ultimately, improving economic autonomy.

Cash and Voucher Assistance, or CVA – giving money to individuals, households, or communities – empowers people to decide which goods or services they need, such as food, hygiene or shelter items, and medical expenses. It is increasingly used by humanitarian actors to achieve protection outcomes. CVA offers choice and dignity to recipients and strengthens local markets. Until now, only a few Humanitarian Mine Action agencies use CVA. But there is great potential.

CVA can be a bridge during treatment and recovery to help EO survivors and families of EO victims afford the costs of funerals, transportation to health facilities, and mental and physical rehabilitation, as well as assistive devices, such as wheelchairs and prostheses. It can allow them to restart a business or transition from an unsafe livelihood such as gathering firewood in a mine field to a safer livelihood away from the danger, such as farming newly cleared land or other safe, market-based businesses that could be kickstarted with a cash grant and training.

Last week, in a major victory for EO survivors and the families of EO victims, a new standard was adopted by the Inter-Agency Coordination Group and will ensure that they are informed and supported to access key services – including CVA – as a right and not as charity. The draft International Mine Action Standard (IMAS) 13.10 on Victim Assistance, as it is known, clarifies that mine action nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and commercial companies should support survivors to get to help if the state is unable to meet its responsibilities. The standard is a global one and it will become a cornerstone in how EO survivors reach clinical care and access support through their recovery. Twenty-four years after the first International Standard for Humanitarian Mine Clearance Operations was agreed to, the fourth pillar of mine action, Victim Assistance, has its own standard.

The value of CVA is clear. Recent research by the Global Protection Cluster Task Team on Cash for Protection, which is co-led by the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), highlights promising practices from early adopters of CVA in humanitarian mine action, as well as evidence gaps, and outlines calls to action for humanitarian stakeholders in order to fulfill the needs of EO survivors, their households, and communities. At last week’s 24th annual International Meeting of Mine Action National Directors and United Nations Advisors, cutting-edge practices in Afghanistan and northwest Syria were presented. Nearly 100 participants, including donors, learned about the potential of CVA in humanitarian mine action.

In the past, Mine Action Teams merely counted and recorded the presence of EO, expecting other humanitarian actors to then help the people affected by them. Now they will be a primary port of call for victim assistance interventions, including CVA, and assist survivors to access key services where the state is unable. When we look to the Mine Ban Treaty, the Oslo and Dubrovnikplans of action, the Grand Bargain, the Sustainable Development Goals, and commitments on disability inclusion, it is clear that this must be done.

It is now up to Mine Action Teams and donors to transform the hope provided in the new standard into action. The day-to-day work of Mine Action is dangerous and complicated. In comparison, helping survivors with a cash transfer so they can afford access to key services for their treatment and recovery is an easy lift. For the schoolgirl in Gaza, the cowherder in South Sudan, and survivors around the world, it’s not a moment too soon.

*For practical field guidance and tools on integrating CVA and Protection visit *WRC’s website.