At the end of Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war in 2009, an estimated 1.6 million landmines were left in the ground, unmarked and mostly unrecorded, contributing to mass internal displacement in the Northern Province and beyond. From the start of HALO’s work in 2002, the programme has worked to clear landmines and other explosive remnants of war, protect lives and help restore livelihoods of conflict-affected communities.
Over the past 20 years, the demining sector has made great progress towards the ultimate goal of Sri Lanka becoming a mine-free country: a goal that will soon become a reality. The land cleared by HALO is the equivalent to 6,700 cricket pitches.
HALO's achievements in Sri Lanka are thanks to the committed and dedicated service of more than 1,300 Sri Lankans who work as deminers, paramedics, mechanics and supervisors. Their work allows communities directly impacted by the legacy of war to return to rebuild their lives. In Sri Lanka the minefields were densely laid with very high numbers of explosives and many HALO staff have cleared land in and around their own villages.
Around 40 per cent of our Sri Lanka team are women - often war widows who support their families through their employment with HALO. Sasikumar Kokila joined HALO in 2010 and has since progressed to Deputy Area Supervisor, one of the most senior operational management roles:
“Before I came to HALO, we were displaced, we had no homes and no help to meet our livelihood problems and support our essential needs. HALO helped me educate my children, improve my livelihood, build a house and get a good start. HALO has nurtured us in every way, with all qualities and leadership skills. I thank HALO for that.”
in late 2022, HALO commemorated its 20th anniversary of humanitarian mine clearance in Sri Lanka. All our staff came together for a day of sports competitions, fun games and cultural performances. The valuable contribution of the long serving staff who have been with HALO since the early days was recognised and celebrated on this day.
Some of the tasks taken on by HALO's Sri Lankan clearance teams have been daunting. During the final stages of the civil war, Muhamalai made up the Forward Defence Line between the Sri Lankan Army and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) forces. Tens of thousands of landmines were laid by both sides on a frontline that barely moved for years and was made impregnable to attackers. Together, the two sides created a minefield three times the size of New York's Central Park. Using manual and mechanical means HALO deminers cleared over 60,000 mines during ten years of work on the Muhamalai minefield alone.
"A landmine is a matter of fear for everyone, and it is an unforgettable memory for me when I found a mine for the first time while working at Irupalai in Jaffna. I came to this job because of poverty, but I also wanted to save the legs of at least ten people. I have already picked up and made others to pick up thousands of mines in these nineteen years. In that way, I feel satisfied I found the purpose of my life."
Sri Lanka acceded to the international Mine Ban Treaty in December 2017. From the time the treaty entered into force in 2018, Sri Lanka has committed to clearing all known mine contamination by 2028. HALO, with the support of its donors, is committed to continuing its life-saving work to help Sri Lanka achieve this goal.
"We are committed to helping Sri Lanka over the finish line. Our demining teams will remain on the ground until the job is done. Moreover, we are working closely with the National Mine Action Centre and other demining organisations to ensure all our staff have the necessary skills for a successful future once Sri Lanka is declared mine-free."