For more than five decades, armed groups have engaged in conflict with the Colombian government. Improvised explosive devices or IEDs, (classified as landmines in Colombia) have been laid throughout rural areas, devastating local communities. Colombia ranked as the second most mine-affected country in the world in 2014 (the most recent year for which statistics are available) accounting for 286 of the 3,678 mine victims recorded. There have been over 11,000 mine victims in Colombia since 1990.
At least 12% of the country’s population has been displaced during the years of conflict, with an estimated six million IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in 2014, the second highest number after Syria.
Landmines continue to have a huge effect on the civilian population, causing physical harm, preventing farming and affecting livelihoods. If more areas were assigned for demining it would prevent needless accidents, allowing life to return to normal and creating safe conditions for people to come home.
HALO set up an office in Colombia in 2009 and began clearance operations in September 2013. We are currently operating in Antioquia (the department with the highest number of mine victims), Meta and Tolima.
As well as ensuring the safety of locals in these regions, our work has allowed IDP resettlement and development projects to go ahead in the municipalities of Nariño and El Carmen de Viboral in Antioquia, helping local families to rebuild their lives. We have played an essential role in the economic revival of many areas, allowing access to markets and public services and restoring agricultural land to productive use.
Since November 2014, HALO has worked in partnership with the Colombian Agency for Reintegration to implement a project for the provision of employment to demobilised combatants. This project has been a great success: former combatants now make up 10% of operations staff, and HALO plans to expand this initiative in line with the programme’s growth.
By the end of 2015, HALO Colombia had cleared a total of 56 minefields (185,359m²) safely destroying 190 mines in the process. Additionally, HALO’s survey teams had cancelled 182 suspected hazardous areas from the national database, which can now be declared safe for land restitution, IDP return and resettlement, and development. Together these activities have benefitted about 800 direct and 4,300 indirect beneficiaries. However, in reality the beneficiaries of HALO’s work are much higher, due to the fact that demining in Colombia is frequently followed by land restitution and other government initiatives such as development and IDP return projects. HALO’s activities in southeast Antioquia are creating safe conditions for the return of the region’s estimated 25,000 IDPs.
Thanks to generous support from our donors - PM/WRA, the European Union, the Italian Embassy via UNMAS, the Canadian government via UNMAS, the Embassy of Japan, the Swiss Development Agency, GIZ, the UK and Pro Victimis – HALO’s work has had a clear and positive impact within its areas of operation. However, there is still a vast unmet need for demining in areas which have recently emerged from conflict. Further funding is needed to continue essential work to make Colombia safer for people to return to and to help them rebuild their lives.