While 94 countries signed an historic United Nations-sponsored treaty renouncing the use of cluster bombs, the larger effort to rid the world of ordnance that kill and maim thousands of people years after they are laid is facing a gigantic shortfall, with less than 5 per cent of funding secured so far for 2009.
“Without full donor support many of Mine Action initiatives will have to be cancelled and more civilians will be at risk of losing limbs, lives and livelihood,” Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions Dmitry Titov told a news conference in New York, presenting the $459-million UN Mine Action Service portfolio for next year, with only $22 million raised so far.
“The portfolio of mine action projects is critical in our view to efforts to protect civilian populations and we urge again and again donors, traditional and untraditional ones, to step forward to help us meet this funding shortfall,” he said of the 300 projects to address the problem of land mines and explosive remnants of war in 33 countries and territories.
Of these, 32 deal with cluster munitions, which have gained added prominence with this week’s meeting in Oslo, Norway, to sign the new pact. First used in World War II, they contain dozens of smaller explosives designed to disperse over an area the size of several football fields; 15 per cent of them fail to detonate upon impact, creating large de facto minefields. They have claimed over 10,000 lives, 98 per cent of them civilians, and 40 per cent of these children.
The Convention will enter into force after ratifications by 30 States, making its commitments to assist victims, clear contaminated areas and destroy stockpiles binding on its Parties. Hailing it as “a step forward in international efforts to protect civilians and control the spread of deadly weapons,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – in a statement issued by his spokesperson – urged more States to sign and ratify the Convention.
The Portfolio of Mine Action Projects is an annual analysis by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ Mine Action Service, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). At a similar time last year the smaller $404-million 2008 portfolio had secured $40 million.
Over the past year 72 countries were reported to be affected by landmines or the explosive remnants of war, and there were 5,426 casualties although the actual number may be much higher as there is often a problem with under-reporting. About one quarter of land mine victims worldwide are children and the country with the most casualties last year was Colombia.
Anti-personnel mines are not only used by governments. Last year, usage by non-state groups was reported in Afghanistan, Colombia, Ecuador, Iraq, India, Myanmar, Pakistan, Peru and Sri Lanka.
Mr. Titov stressed that Mine Action also helped the safe deployment of peacekeepers in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Lebanon and Sudan.
“In Sudan over 25,000 kilometres of roads have been cleared extending the reach of peacekeeping operations and civilians even to areas where no cars or trucks have been seen in 30 years,” he said. “In Afghanistan, under the most difficult conditions, over 1 billion metres of land have been cleared, halving the number of casualties from unexploded ordnance and freeing up vital agricultural land for cultivation.”