War is painful enough. Many people lose everything. More often than not, they flee to safety during the war. When it’s over, all they want is to return to normality. Instead they find they cannot go home because their land is not safe. Paths, roads, fields, villages, schools and other local amenities have been mined. If they return, at best they will live in fear of injury or death from a landmine; they may lose crucial livestock. At worst they step on a mine and lose a limb or die. Nearly half of all civilian casualties are children.
Victims of conflict often live in refugee camps for years, sometimes decades. Driven by a desperate desire to return and rebuild their lives, they take risks we can’t imagine in the developed world. Many have little choice but to farm mined land so they can feed their families. They are innocent victims of conflict and proud citizens of vulnerable rural communities. They simply want their lives back.
HALO’s work saves lives but it is also the essential first step to get people back on their feet. Once they return, the resulting transformation can be remarkably quick: within weeks, seeds are planted and within months, crops begin to flourish. Then, other NGO partners can access these areas to offer any other help that may be needed. In many cases, a new population census literally puts the community back on the map. Roads, schools and local amenities are built. Real life begins again.
A beacon of hope: mine-free Mozambique
Mozambique’s announcement of its mine free status (September 2015) is a beacon of hope to the 56 countries with a legacy of landmines. At HALO we have always known that it is possible, even in heavily affected areas, but the world now has the proof. Whole countries can be cleared.
Under the International Mine Ban Treaty (also known as the Ottawa Convention and championed in its closing stages by Princess Diana), 162 countries agreed to clear ‘all mined areas in their territory within 10 years’. Given the heavy contamination in these countries, it has been a huge challenge to meet the deadline. However, as Mozambique has shown, with political will, the right commitment and continued investment, we can finish the job. Countries like Somalia, Sri Lanka and Angola could be cleared of landmines within a few years. In 2014, States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty committed to the goal of a mine-free world by 2025.
Beyond mine clearance
We remain committed to getting mines out of the ground, for good, but the picture has become more complex for some countries. Badly stored and increasingly unstable ammunition, much of it up to forty years old, poses a threat to populations. A single explosion at an ammunition storage area in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo in 2012 killed more than 500 civilians and destroyed an entire neighbourhood that included churches, a school and a hospital.
The global casualty rates from accidental detonations in ammunition stores now rival those of landmines. In addition, conventional battles between armies have given way to protracted conflicts with insurgents using small arms and IEDs built with explosives looted from abandoned ammunition stores. With an estimated 75-100 million in the world, the AK47 Kalashnikov is arguably the most potent weapon of mass destruction of the modern era. In 2014 alone, they were used to kill 250,000 people.
Our interviews with refugees consistently highlight the use of explosive weapons as the main reason for people abandoning their homes; it is one of the root causes of the migrant crisis and extreme poverty. Life for the victims of these conflicts becomes insufferable. They live in constant fear and are eventually compelled to seek safety elsewhere. Small wonder that the refugee crisis is now so grave.
While the developed world wrestles with refugee quotas, HALO is working with countries emerging from conflict, securing weapons and disposing of unexploded ammunition. It paves the way for infrastructure to enable economic development and it underpins international stability and security. By hiring men and women from the mine-impacted communities, HALO’s approach directly lifts our staff’s extended families and communities out of poverty while contributing to peace-building and sustainable futures.
We urgently need to reach more countries where our skills and experience can accelerate recovery and provide the essential ground work to help address the root cause of the current refugee crisis. With your support, we can prevent the horror, waste and inhumanity of landmines and other lethal debris of war
Making people and land safe is the first step towards rehabilitating communities after conflict. Help us to help more vulnerable people to rebuild their lives. Every dollar counts.Donate