International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action: Goals in Sri Lanka

The Government of Sri Lanka has announced its intention to be mine-impact free by 2020, a goal which sets the bar high, given that landmines and explosive remnants of war still contaminate many pockets of Sri Lanka. This contamination follows more than three decades of armed conflict between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which sought a separate homeland in the north and east. While demining activities began immediately after the war ended in 2009, contamination remains a critical impediment to the resettlement of internally displaced persons and development initiatives. 

On April 4, the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, I am proud that U.S. assistance has allowed Sri Lanka to reach the final four percent of its known landmine contamination. Becoming mine-impact free by 2020 would be one of the most rapid post-war remediation efforts in the history of U.S.-funded mine action.

The hurdles ahead are not trivial, particularly as the government of Maithripala Sirisena seeks to fulfill the government’s commitments to return land previously held in heavily mined “high security zones” to civilian use. Removing the mines and unexploded ordnance from these zones would assure the safety of returnees to such areas, many of whom have been waiting since 2009 to return to their homes.

Villagers participating in mine awareness campaign. [Photo courtesy of MAG]

How does the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) support Sri Lanka’s goal? We are funding mine clearance efforts, as well as surveys, risk-education, and capacity building of the Sri Lankan Army’s Humanitarian Demining Units, by supporting their Mine Detection Dog program through the Marshall Legacy Institute. We also are sending their staff to regional Senior Managers training where they meet with their colleagues from around the region and the world to share international best-practices in mine-action.

MDD Boris and his handler have been working with the Sri Lankan Army’s Humanitarian Demining Unit since 2012. In 2015 they helped search nearly 75,000 square meters of mine affected land. [Photo courtesy of MLI]

PM/WRA is providing more than $4 million in 2016 to Sri Lanka for conventional weapons destruction programs through several international partner organizations, resulting in significant progress so far toward restoring access to land and infrastructure. The Halo Trust, Mines Advisory Group (MAG), and Delvon Assistance for Social Harmony (the first Sri Lankan national NGO to receive PM/WRA funding) support the Government of Sri Lanka’s efforts to return internally displaced persons to their homes in Northern Sri Lanka and to enable people in the north to once again engage in productive livelihoods.  

 Men walking on outskirts of contaminated area. [Photo courtesy of MAG]

U.S. Embassy Colombo and PM/WRA have also engaged with donor nations on the importance of continued mine action programming and are grateful that the British, Canadian, and Japanese governments actively provide support. 

I have visited Sri Lanka multiple times over the past several years and I am always struck by the determination of the Sri Lankan people to make their land safe and productive again.  On one visit in 2013 I observed a female deminer recover and defuse an anti-personnel mine. She told me that she was frightened at first but, due to her meticulous training, she now feels confident of her safety as she defuses landmines on a daily basis. A year later she led her team in a demonstration of mine-clearance techniques used by MAG around the country. In June of 2015, I again visited Sri Lanka and was amazed by the progress being made by HALO as they work to clear the area of Nagarkovil completely. 

I am hopeful that, with the concerted actions of the Sri Lankan government, NGOs, and donor nations, Sri Lanka can meet its goal –- mine-impact free by 2020!

The United States is the world’s leading provider of financial and technical assistance for the clearance of explosive remnants of war, and looks forward to continued collaboration with its partners in the region. Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $2.5 billion in aid to more than 90 countries to help alleviate the threat of unexploded ordnance, landmines, conventional weapons, and munitions. For more information on U.S. humanitarian demining and Conventional Weapons Destruction programs, check out the latest edition of our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety.

About the author: Melissa Windecker is a Program Manager and Grants Officer Representative in the Bureau of Political-Military AffairsOffice of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA).

Comments

Comments

ivan p.
|
United States
April 5, 2016
The Government of Canada will provide $850 000 in support of work by the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) to remove landmines in the Mannar District in Sri Lanka, facilitating the release of over 1,000 hectares of highly productive farm land for the resettling over 500 families. goo.gl/2SAN6V
ishwar m.
|
India
June 9, 2016
Informative post about mine Awareness and Assistance in Sri Lanka I am also hopeful that, with this actions of the Sri Lankan government, NGOs. Sri Lanka can meet its goal –- mine-impact free by 2020!
Female deminer working in the field. [Photo courtesy of MAG]
April 4, 2016

.

Latest Stories

January 19, 2017

What We Got Right

With a new administration taking office this week, it is natural to assess the inheritance it will receive from the… more

Pages