Yesterday’s announcement by the UK Department of International Development (DFID) that it will fund £100m towards clearing the most affected countries of landmines by 2025 cements Britain as a global leader in providing effective humanitarian assistance. Secretary of State Priti Patel announced the funding on International Mine Awareness Day, in the presence of Prince Harry, who spoke movingly about his mother’s determination to highlight the plight of landmine victims.
As CEO of the HALO Trust, it is impossible not to feel frustrated that two decades after we escorted Diana, Princess of Wales, through a minefield in Angola, there are still 60 million people worldwide who live in daily fear of these terrible weapons.
Princess Diana’s visit helped bring states together in 1997 to sign the Ottawa Landmine Ban Treaty. With over 160 state signatories, it remains one of the most adhered to treaties in the world today. Thanks to Ottawa, global production of landmines has come to a halt, thousands of stockpiles and minefields have been cleared and almost 30 countries have been declared mine-free.
But global funding from governments has waned significantly over the last decade, slowing down progress in some of the most severely affected countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.
By pledging such high-level support, the UK is encouraging other mine action donor states to acknowledge the Treaty’s deadline 2025 for a mine-free world and commit to finishing the job.
Last night Prince Harry and Priti Patel told the world that the clock is ticking. Across Africa, The Middle East, Central Asia and elsewhere, war is displacing people and causing untold suffering. But even after the fighting stops, landmines, IEDs and other explosives paralyse countries. There may be ceasefires and peace talks, but genuine peace can only follow when the deadly debris of war is removed.
The HALO Trust and our partner the Mines Advisory Group are two great British charities committed to making the world a safer place. Many people who work for us are ex-servicemen and women who put their lives at risk in some of the most dangerous places on earth. They also train local people to demine, providing employment to people who have lost everything, or young men who may otherwise become criminals or insurgents. We clear mines to stop people from being killed and wounded. We restore land for farming and other livelihoods. But our most enduring legacy is to restore confidence in countries devastated by war.
Last night, in honour of his mother’s memory, Prince Harry presented an historic opportunity to unite government, corporate and private donors and mark the start of a countdown to a mine-free world. As with the eradication of smallpox, a mine-free world is not a pipe dream but a real possibility, but only with the right financial support. So today let’s forge new partnerships and commit to walk alongside our brave de-miners. Together we can make 2025 the year the world became mine-free.