by Jean-Pierre Lacroix
Imagine that you live in a town plagued by landmines. Imagine that shopping at the market means walking through a minefield, that stepping off the road risks losing a limb, that allowing your children to play in a field implies risking their lives. This is a reality in nearly 60 countries and territories, where millions of people remain affected by landmines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and explosive remnants of war (ERW).
Since the early 1990s, countries have collaborated to rid the world of landmines, leading to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention of 1997 and other international frameworks. Today, many countries have declared themselves mine free — with others well on the way.
However, a number of intense and protracted conflicts have resulted in increased contamination, including by IEDs, which can be manufactured at a modest cost. The increased use of these weapons kills, injures and traumatizes people and communities, hinders peace operations and humanitarian responses and prohibits refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) from returning to their homes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the response to these dangers more difficult and must be overcome through multilateral cooperation.
The 24th International Meeting of Mine Action National Directors and United Nations Advisers (NDM-UN24), funded this year by the Federal Republic of Germany, provides a platform for over 800 mine action stakeholders to discuss the latest innovations, emerging challenges and improved practices in protecting people from the detritus of war. Perseverance, partnership and progress drive the conversation this year.
Life-saving mine action in 2021 and beyond requires perseverance. As governments grapple with shrinking budgets, alternative means of funding must be found and impact maximized for the mine action sector to deliver the goals agreed by the international community. Victims of mines/ERW accidents must have access to appropriate care, rehabilitation, and support with the long-term goal of full, equal and effective participation in society.
The partnerships formed and nurtured at the NDM-UN are also critical, as mine action actors do not operate in a vacuum. Affected communities must drive the decisions that concern their lives and homes; programmes must promote transformative gender equality; racial equity must be addressed to pave the way for concrete initiatives to increase diversity and respect in mine action.
Our goals are numerous, and to achieve them, we will coordinate mine action activities within states affected, among donors and across sectors, exemplified by the rich collaboration at the NDM-UN. As Secretary-General Guterres noted in his speech for the 2021 International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance, ‘The achievements of the mine action community show that, in working together, we can reach milestones once seen as impossible.’
Through perseverance and partnership, we will make progress.
The author is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations.