Priti Patel, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development, visited HALO’s Afghanistan programme in Kabul on Sunday, February 26, in the first visit by the UK’s senior politician responsible for development. Ms Patel was greeted by an honour guard of 50 deminers and toured the compound accompanied by HALO senior programme staff and press.
During her visit, Ms Patel used a mine detector in a training minefield and was shown a collection of the mines that have caused thousands of deaths and injuries in Afghanistan over the last three decades.
In full body armour, the Secretary of State destroyed an Iranian-made anti-personnel mine using a water jet disrupter, a piece of lightweight equipment developed by HALO to destroy explosive devices. The Development Secretary spoke to HALO’s deminers and mine risk education teams and recognised their valuable contribution to Afghanistan’s development and security.
At the conclusion of her visit, Ms Patel presented Dr Farid Homayoun, HALO Afghanistan Programme Manager, with a Sapphire Jubilee coin from the Royal Mint.
Through both the Department for International Development (DFID) and the UK’s Conflict, Security, and Stabilisation Fund (CSSF), the British Government is a longstanding supporter of mine action in Afghanistan. A ten-year DFID-funded project to clear Herat Province is nearly complete. Thirteen districts have been completed, benefitting over 370,000 families.
An entire suburb of Herat city with a population of over 35,000 people has been built on cleared land and a women’s dormitory has been constructed at the university. HALO deminers are currently making safe a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fifteenth-century Musalla complex, home to four historic minarets.
HALO Afghanistan is the largest mine action programme in the world and currently employs more than 2,600 Afghan staff. Deminers, including ex-combatants, are recruited from mine-impacted communities across the country.
Afghanistan is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world. Yet, nearly 80 per cent of the country’s landmines and explosive remnants of war contamination has been cleared. However nearly 600km² remain. In 2016, there were over 140 civilian deaths or injuries, each month, from mines, IEDs, and other unexploded ordnance. Children are affected the most - more than 80 per cent of the victims are boys.
A mine-free Afghanistan by 2023 will help resolve the daily threat to Afghanistan’s people. Job creation through land clearance enables the country’s economic regeneration by offering opportunities for a steady income. After clearance, HALO partners with development organisations who specialise in boosting farm incomes so that the effects of demining can have an immediate impact.