200,000 landmines cleared in Sri Lanka

The humanitarian landmine clearance charity The HALO Trust has reached a significant milestone, having cleared its 200,000th landmine in Sri Lanka. Mine clearance has allowed 160,000 Tamils, displaced by the 26-year armed conflict, to return to their homes in safety.

Many of Sri Lanka's 300,000 internally displaced people were unable to return to their communities when the conflict ended in 2009, due to extensive minelaying in the north of island. HALO's thorough survey and clearance activities continues to facilitate safe resettlement and regeneration of fishing and farming communities even now, more than twenty years after displacement.

James Cowan, CEO of HALO said:

I have witnessed the transformational benefits of landmine clearance in northern Sri Lanka for myself and can attest to the positive impact that removing the deadly debris of war has had on people’s lives. After years of conflict and uncertainty, Sri Lankans are finally able to rebuild their lives in safety.

The HALO Trust currently employs 500 Sri Lankan men and women in its national mine clearance operations, ensuring that land released to communities after clearance has been rigorously surveyed and cleared by trained individuals, whose employment has been pivotal in helping them rebuild their lives after the devastation of war. Around 45% of HALO’s Sri Lankan workforce are women, many of whom were left widowed by the conflict and are now sole breadwinners for multiple dependants.

Major General Cowan added:

Whilst we have much progress to celebrate in Sri Lanka today, there are still many landmines posing a serious threat to the most disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. Mines continue to present an obstacle to the safe return of IDPs and block access to paddy fields, fishing jetties, grazing land and community infrastructure. The Sri Lankan government has set a target of 2020 for Sri Lanka to be mine-impact free, but we need long term donor commitment to reach that goal.

A celebration of HALO’s clearance of the 200,000th landmine will be held at 11.30am Thursday 10 December at Muhamalai minefield control point on the A9 road (4km north of Palai town in northern Kilinochchi district). Government representatives from Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Jaffna districts will be in attendance.

Sri Lankan clearance represents 14% of the total number of landmines cleared worldwide by HALO since 1988. This is the NGO’s third largest clearance in the world, after Afghanistan and Cambodia, but it could be five more years before Sri Lanka is finally mine free.

Watch our video to find out how one landmine victim and her family have benefited from HALO’s landmine clearance.