Today UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) announces a new five year grant to HALO of over £9 million. This funding allows continuation of employment of over 300 HALO Afghan demining staff in the west of Afghanistan, using the latest technology mine detectors, including ground penetrating radar, and also mechanical mine clearance equipment designed in Newcastle to clear the numerous minimal metal anti-tank mines laid by the Mujahideen during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. These mines have been preventing cultivation of very fertile areas suitable for growing a variety of crops other than poppies.
The grant will enable HALO to clear all known mined areas in Herat Province by 2018 – a province that previously had the distinction of having the second highest number of mines casualties across Afghanistan. During the previous five year DFID grant to HALO, we cleared over 53 square kilometres of mine and UXO contaminated land, completing 518 separate tasks and directly benefitting 172,607 families.
Not only does the project stop people being blown up on landmines and allowing farmers to grow crops, it also provides continuation of over 300 regular full-time jobs for young men. These men might otherwise earn cash either by joining the insurgency or moving unrefined heroine from Helmand poppy fields to neighbouring countries for onward “export”.
HALO has worked across central and northern Afghanistan since 1988, and by early 2012 was employing Afghan 3,822 demining staff. If these northern and central areas of Afghanistan are to be cleared of mines in the next 10 years then funding for clearance needs to be stepped up. All political and ethnic groups in Afghanistan have been very supportive of HALO, so we go forward with optimism for the country.
On announcing the DFID grant, Secretary of State Justine Greening said:
Afghanistan is the most densely mined country in the world, with more than a million Afghans living within 500 metres of a landmine contaminated area.
This fact, and the fact that 70% of all casualties are children, is horrific. HALO’s most senior Afghan, Dr Farid Homayoun, said:
I hear that during this global recession many British are critical of DFID’s ring-fenced budget, and many are also cynical, to say the least, of British involvement in Afghanistan – but this grant really is worthwhile, life saving, accountable and visible – Thank You.