U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program
Formally established in 1993, the interagency U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program is the largest and one of the world’s oldest such programs. Consisting of various U.S. agencies, the program operates worldwide to clear landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), provide mine-risk education (MRE), provide survivor assistance, further develop mine-clearance technology, train deminers in affected countries, and support foreign health and rehabilitation/reintegration projects related to survivors assistance.
The United States remains the world’s top contributor to humanitarian mine action (HMA), contributing tens of millions of dollars annually to rid the world of landmines, the majority of which have been manufactured and employed by other countries and foreign combatants. In fiscal year 2008, the United States spent $123.1 million on these efforts.
The HMA Program involves the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of Defense (DoD), and the Department of Health and Human Services through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The mission of PM/WRA is to develop policy options, implement arms destruction and mitigation programs, and engage civil society in a synergistic effort to reduce the negative effects generated by the indiscriminate use of persistent landmines and illicit/ abandoned conventional weapons of war. Among its responsibilities, PM/WRA oversees day-to-day management of bilateral mine-action assistance programs and encourages the participation of civil society in mine action through its Public-Private Partnership program (www.state.gov/t/pm/wra/partners).
USAID promotes sustainable development by providing humanitarian services in post-conflict situations. Its Bureau of Humanitarian Response’s Office of Transition Initiatives connects emergency assistance and long-term development by supporting organizations and people in emergency transitional positions in conflict-prone countries. USAID’s Leahy War Victims Fund improves the mobility, health and social integration of the disabled, including landmine survivors. Typically, USAID works through nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to develop a country’s capacity for sustainable services for conflict survivors.
DoD manages a Humanitarian Demining Research and Development Program that is improving the technologies and means to detect and clear landmines and explosive remnants of war. One of its recent projects has been the development and deployment of the Handheld Standoff Mine Detection System (HSTAMIDS), a combination ground-penetrating radar and metal-detecting machine.
DoD also manages the Humanitarian Demining Training Center, in which U.S. military forces train foreign deminers in humanitarian mine action to International Mine Action Standards. In some situations, DoD funds a mine action program’s start-up costs, with PM/WRA providing subsequent funds to procure the necessary equipment, provide training, and supply continued support until the program reaches the U.S. government’s end state.
The CDC provides technical and financial support to several NGOs and United Nations agencies for public-health projects related to survivor assistance. These projects include direct support to survivors, as well as science-based assistance in identifying new survivors and assessing their health needs.
Peace, Safety and Stability
A woman and her son coming back from the market in Hudur town, the capital of the Bakol region in southern Somalia.
The U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program focuses on three major “pillars:” mine detection and clearance, mine-risk education, and survivor assistance. Depending on the needs of a country, the United States may assist with financial support in one, two, or all three pillars.
Mine detection and clearance. Before clearance can begin in an affected country, a Landmine Impact Survey (LIS) is conducted to determine the specific nature and extent of landmine contamination. The LIS identifies broad areas where mines exist and estimates the impact these mines have on local communities. Although mine clearance and mine-risk education must often begin before the survey is complete, the LIS provides mine-action authorities with an important tool for development planning.
Following the LIS, a technical survey is conducted to document specific details of the landmine contamination. Mined areas are demarcated, and the number and types of mines and ERW are recorded.
International law requires that those who lay mines identify the types of landmines emplaced, and map their locations for removal at the end of hostilities; however, insurgent groups and nations have ignored international law, emplacing mines without marking or recording their use or location. Natural events pose another obstacle, as mines tend to migrate from their original locations as a result of shifting desert sands or heavy rains in tropical areas that wash away topsoil.
U.S. law states: “As a matter of policy, U.S. Forces shall not engage in physically detecting, lifting, or destroying landmines, unless it does so for the concurrent purpose of supporting a U.S. military operation; or provides such assistance as part of a military operation that does not involve the armed forces.” U.S. military personnel, therefore, use a “train-the-trainer” approach to assist affected countries. These U.S. forces, who have graduated from DoD’s Humanitarian Demining Training Center, educate an initial team of host-nation deminers in mine-clearance techniques and procedures; this team then trains others until enough of the country’s nationals are competent to mark and clear mines safely and effectively.
Mine-risk education. The majority of mine casualties are young men who encounter mines during daily activities such as farming or shepherding animals. Adult males are generally hurt trying to disarm mines and UXO to sell them as scrap metal; children are typically hurt by playing with mines and UXO or simply by running across an open space near their homes. Women become casualties while gathering firewood or water, or while working in their gardens. Various NGOs, often supported by the U.S. and other donors, provide MRE to at-risk populations. Teaching people how to recognize landmines and explosive remnants of war, and to inform demining authorities of the presence of such hazards, reduces casualties. U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations and international organizations create MRE materials and tailor them to be sensitive to cultural mores. U.S. military personnel go through cultural training and learn native languages before MRE is deployed.
Survivor assistance. Survivor assistance requires a long-term commitment not only to landmine survivors but also to their families. Treating initial injuries is not enough because as the wounds heal, new prostheses to fit the growing or wilting limb are needed. Physical and educational training, such as relearning personal care and income-producing skills as well as psychological care involving overcoming feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, are needed to regain a productive life. This is why mine-action programs encourage a holistic approach to providing assistance to landmine survivors.
Small Arms/Light Weapons Destruction
The United States is a global leader in fighting the illicit trafficking of conventional weapons and munitions of all calibers. Many countries have stockpiles of conventional weapons and aging, often unstable, munitions dating back to the Cold War (or even earlier) that are no longer needed for their national security.
These stockpiles and weapons frequently pose a major public-safety hazard in populated areas as well as create an environmental threat. Since they are often poorly secured, these munitions and conventional weapons are easy targets for terrorists, criminals, and insurgent groups.
The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs helps develop and implement U.S. policies regarding conventional weapons and munitions. While acknowledging the legitimacy of the legal trade, manufacture, and ownership of arms, the U.S. works to improve global and national mechanisms for controlling conventional weapons by assisting states in improving their export control practices, providing physical security and stockpile management for at-risk arms and munitions depots, and destroying excess weapons around the world.
These efforts include supporting initiatives of the United Nations and other international and regional organizations to address illicit transnational arms transfers through the marking and tracing of small arms and light weapons (SA/LW), and strengthening controls on arms brokers. PM/WRA also establishes U.S.-funded destruction operations within a host country, taking into account factors such as regional stability, counter-terrorism and force protection, and mitigation of the humanitarian impact of illicit SA/LW and abandoned ordnance.
|PM/WRA SA/LW Program Funding|
An SA-7 MANPADS