Thank you, Jonathan, for the introduction. I don’t always watch television commercials, but when I do, I prefer that you are in them.
It is an honor to be here and to share the stage with Senator Leahy, Senator Casey, Congressman McGovern, and Ambassador Chedid. My particular thanks go out to Senator Leahy, for hosting this event. Senator, the State Department appreciates your longtime support for U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action programs, including the Leahy War Victims Fund that USAID has managed since 1989 to respond to the needs of civilian victims of conflict.
As we continue to focus our efforts on explosive remnants of war arising from past U.S. military operations, particularly in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, I would like to thank the Senator for his long-standing support of a well-funded Conventional Weapons Destruction program.
I appreciate being invited here by Rich Eisendorf and the MAG (Mine Action Group) America team. I congratulate you on 25 years of assisting post-conflict societies “survive the peace,” by clearing mines and unexploded ordnance that can threaten lives and livelihoods long after the fighting ends.
I know it’s been mentioned, but the event’s photo exhibit is absolutely stunning. Please take a look before you leave. Sean Sutton’s photographs beautifully illustrate not only the hardship and danger that communities face from explosive remnants of war, but also the hope for the future that international assistance provides.
The hope is clear in the photo of the MAG Sri Lanka female deminers that MAG and Sean graciously provided the State Department for the cover of our 2013 edition of our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety. These women are clearly devoted to this cause, and the U.S. State Department is proud to fund their work and that of many other deminers around the world who are making their communities safer.
The United States shares common cause with MAG America and all those working to address the harmful effects on civilians from landmines and unexploded ordnance left over from wars. Without the work of MAG America and other clearance operators around the world, these items will remain hazardous to civilians for decades after the end of armed conflict.
U.S. efforts have assisted 15 countries around the world to become free of the humanitarian impact of landmines and have helped to dramatically reduce the world’s annual landmine casualty rate. In 1999, the casualty rate from landmines and explosive remnants of war was just over 9,000 annually – that number dropped to less than 4,000 in 2012.
Since the inception of the Humanitarian Mine Action program in 1993, the U.S. government has delivered over $2.2 billion in aid in over 90 countries to help overcome threats from landmines and explosive remnants of war, as well as the destruction of excess, loosely-secured, or otherwise at-risk weapons and ammunition. We are the world’s single largest financial supporter of Conventional Weapons Destruction programs.
We have provided much of this assistance through non-governmental implementing partners, like MAG. It is their dedication, expertise, and professionalism that make the difference in affected communities and helps us maintain a global reach. Thank you to MAG and all our partners.
Here are a few examples of how they work:
MAG’s commitment to mine action in the hostile environment of Northern Iraq continues to contribute to increased security in that region. MAG was actually one of the first organizations providing assistance on the ground in Libya in 2011.
And in 2013, MAG was the first international NGO to conduct survey and clearance operations in Quang Nam province, Vietnam. This is a testament to your years of excellent work in the region.
In these budget-constrained times, State Department assistance programs are under great scrutiny. However, our support for the clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance has proven a wise investment that saves lives and fosters stability in every region of the world.
The program helps countries recover from conflict and creates safe, secure environments to rebuild infrastructure; return displaced citizens to their homes and livelihoods; help those injured by these weapons to recover and provide for their families; and promote peace and security by helping to establish conditions conducive to stability, nonviolence, and democracy.
In closing, thank you all, and particularly our host Senator Leahy, for your support for the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. Most importantly, thank you to the professionals around the world in and out of the government who work to reduce the threat to life and limb from landmines and unexploded ordnance.