To Walk the Earth in Safety: Saving Lives, Clearing Landmines, and Destroying Conventional Weapons

During my time as the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, I have had the great honor of overseeing valiant efforts to save lives and prevent injuries from the impact of landmines, unexploded ordnance (UXO), light weapons, ammunition and excess and obsolete small arms. Indeed, for more than two decades, the United States has been at the forefront of international initiatives to reduce the worldwide threat to civilians from conventional weapons of war.

Since 1993, the United States has invested nearly $2.5 billion for this endeavor, and in Fiscal Year 2014, the Department of State allocated $140 million to conventional weapons destruction programs in more than 40 countries, helping post-conflict communities and countries recover and rebuild.

Just 15 years ago, landmines and other explosive remnants of war killed or injured nearly 10,000 men, women, and children every year — more than 25 every day. Thanks to the concerted labors of the United States, partner nations, international nongovernmental organizations, and host nations, that figure has now dropped by more than 60 percent.

These endeavors touch thousands of lives all over the world, from children in Sri Lanka who can now safely walk to school, to farmers in Vietnam who can now tend to their crops without fear. Our programs have cleared aging and unstable ammunition in Kyrgyzstan, and provided medical rehabilitation and vocational training for survivors of landmine incidents who currently reside in Syrian refugee camps.

I would like to highlight important FY2014 milestones:

  • Quang Tri: As part of our increased commitment to removing UXO from Vietnam, we launched a five-year Comprehensive Survey and Clearance Project to make Quang Tri Province -- home to 700,000 people -- free from the impact of UXO. Our ten-fold funding increase for Quang Tri Province in FY2014 is a clear sign of this continued commitment.
  • West Bank: In FY2014, The HALO Trust (HALO), funded by the U.S. government and other international donors, began the first-ever humanitarian mine clearance operation in the West Bank. They cleared and excavated 26,600 square meters and destroyed 344 mines in a single minefield. The Department of State continues to support HALO’s close collaboration with both Israeli and Palestinian mine action authorities, and we share the goal of clearing the remaining minefields that endanger the lives of residents of the West Bank.
  • Opportunities for Professional Women: Reflecting our firm commitment to providing opportunities for women, in 2014 the U.S. Department of State funded a female demining team in Tajikistan, the first and only all-female demining team in Central Asia. In another successful development, Zimbabwe’s first all-female demining team became operational in January 2015. In Sri Lanka, female deminers are assuming leadership roles in integrated male and female demining teams.
  • Illicitly Proliferated and At-Risk Stockpiles: The U.S. Department of State diligently works to ensure that dangerous weapons, including Man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), do not fall into the wrong hands. That is why last year, our support allowed the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) to assess, refurbish, and better secure armories and ammunition stores throughout the country of Chad. In Niger, we and our partners destroyed more than 1,000 small arms and light weapons at risk for illicit proliferation. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, our support has enabled Sterling Global to send technical advisors to assist the Bosnian Armed Forces in reducing massive stockpiles of conventional munitions, including destruction oversight and capital improvements to the Bosnia and Herzegovina demilitarization facilities.

These and many other courageous efforts are possible thanks to the tremendous support of the U.S. Congress and the people of the United States. I invite you to read this year’s “To Walk the Earth in Safety” to learn about the work of incredibly dedicated teams that make our success stories possible. We will continue to prioritize these undertakings because they are a vital U.S. interest and reflect the very best of our values. As Secretary Kerry said last year, “President Kennedy set for our nation the goal of sending a man to walk on the moon. We did that. Today, we reaffirm our resolve to help all people everywhere to be able to walk safely, right here on Earth.” 

About the Author: Puneet Talwar serves as the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

A group of girls participate in mine risk education in Dangarayo Village, Somalia
Despite the hardships facing Syrian refugee children in Jordan, Spirit of Soccer teaches mine risk education through fun games and play time
U.S.-funded HALO and Armenian peacekeeping forces clearing landmines near villages in Syunik, Armenia
U.S.-funded MAG safely disposes of abandoned ordnance from previous conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a member of the Regional Centre on Small Arms in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa.
Posted by Puneet Talwar
November 2, 2015


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