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Wednesday, 4 April 2012

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International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance for Mine Action today:

Mine Action - Sri Lanka’s success story

As per ‘The National Strategy for Mine Action in Sri Lanka 2010’ by the Economic Development Ministry mentioned, it could take another 10 years to clear the mine-contaminated land in the North and East of Sri Lanka, although it could be completed well before 2020 at the current progress being made since 2002. Over 300,000 people were displaced at the last stage of war in 2009; most have been re-settled to date with 6,569 remaining in camps as of January 2012. Since 2009 the areas abandoned due to landmine and ERW contamination had been cleared, including paddy land (101,827) hectares, water bodies (29,999) hectares, A class roads (538km), other roads over (1,500km), and railway lines (263km). This progress is mainly due to the high priority given by the government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), with continues technical and financial support from the GoSL and the international community, in the mine action programme.

De-mining activities will help expedite development. File photo

The National Mine Action Prorgramme of Sri Lanka was initiated in 2002 with the assistance of UNDP, UNICEF, INGOs, NGOs and several donor countries (Australia, USA, Canada, Russia, Japan, Norway, India, China, EU) with the goal of creating a mine and explosive remnants of war (ERW) free environment in support of the resettlement and development programmes of the GoSL. The initiation of humanitarian de-mining since 2002 has achieved many milestones during the process such as developing National Mine Action Standards in 2004 and 2010, setting up of GoSL Mine Action Strategy in 2006 and 2010. In 2009, the Cabinet officially approved the setting up of the National Mine Action Centre (NMAC) under the Ministry of Economic Development which has led to gradual take over full responsibility for the coordination of mine action in Sri Lanka. ‘The National Strategy for Mine Action in Sri Lanka 2010’ of the NMAC is the official government document to address the five pillars of mine action in Sri Lanka.

There are two Regional Mine Action Offices (RMAO) currently operating in Vavuniya, Jaffna with the sub office in Killinochchi. The District Steering Committee for Mine Action (DCMA) provided direction to the respective RMAO in terms of mine action task priorities in support of the development projects and plans implemented by the district authorities within their district. The Mine Action Officer of the RMAO acts as the secretary at the DCMA meetings within the RMAO area of responsibility and the Government Agent (GAs) of the respective district chair the DCMA. De-mining (clearance) has been prioritized into three sectors such as high, medium and low according to the National Strategy for Mine Action.

Pillars of programme

There are five pillars in the mine-action programme.

1. De-mining - This includes landmine and ERW clearance, including non-technical survey, technical survey, mapping, marking, clearance, community mine action liaison, completion survey, the handover of cleared land and post clearance impact survey. To release zero mine/ERW contaminated land it uses various techniques and means such as human, animal (mine detective dogs use in Sri Lanka) and technology. The Sri Lanka Army Humanitarian De-mining Unit (SLA- HDU) and there are six international INGOs (The Halo Trust, Danish De-mining Group, Foundation Suisse de Deminage (FSD), Sarvatra, Horizon, Mines Advisory Group). Two local NGOs (Delvon Assistance for Social Harmony and the Milinda Moragoda Institute for People’s Empowerment) are carrying out the de-mining in Sri Lanka. The de-mining operation, a high-cost, high-risk time-consuming and painstaking process.

2. Mine Risk Education (MRE) - MRE to reduce risk-taking behaviour among people living in mine/ERW contaminated areas. MRE is supported by the UNICEF and work in the community is carried out by the Sarvodaya, SOND, Rural Development Foundation (RDF) and SLA-HDU, MRE teams. There are four complimentary MRE approaches in Sri Lanka, such as school-based, community-based, community liaison and media-based.

3. Victim Assistance (VA) - This refers to data collection on victims, all care and rehabilitation activities that aim to meet the immediate and long-term needs of landmine and ERW victims, their families and affected communities. The ministries dealing with VA include the Ministry of Social Services, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Defence (Directorate of Rehabilitation). UNICEF supports VA service providers but much lower scale than MRE and UNDP provides socio-economic support for targeted vulnerable populations.

4. Destruction of stockpiles of anti-personal landmines - Sri Lanka Army is destroying all unearthed landmines during the humanitarian de-mining process. However, Sri Lanka has a four year time period to destroy all the stockpiles when the country acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT).

5. Advocacy - Advocating in support of a ban on anti-personal landmines and other relevant instruments of law that address the problems of landmines and ERW. Sri Lanka Campaign to Ban Landmines (SLCBL) is campaigning promoting full compliance of and accession to the Anti-personal Mine Ban Convention and by ratifying the Convention for the Rights of People with Disability (CRPD).

Mine and ERW contaminated land clearance

The Information Management System on Mine Action (IMSMA) it is estimated that 6,218 km2 of land area is contaminated with mines and unexploded ordinances (UXOs). 4,157 km2 have been identified as safe areas out of the total estimated contaminated areas and the other balance of 2,061km2 were confirmed as Hazard Areas (CHA) by None Technical Survey (NTS) according to the initial survey. Further it mentioned, the balance areas have been cleared by deploying three methods of Battle Area Clearance (BAC), Mine Field Clearance (MFC) and Mechanical Verification from 2002 to February 2012 is 862,529,498m2 (862.52km2) with the devices recovered are 778,412. In addition, the areas of 1,074,266,552 m2 (1074km2) have been released by None Technical Survey (NTS) too.

Accordingly, total area cleared since the inception to end February 2012 is 1,936,796,051m2 and the remaining CHA to be cleared is 124,731,470 m2 (124.73km2).

Some significant achievements in de-mining

* Fairly rapid pace of resettlement in all five districts in the North subsequent to very good coordination of the Mine/ ERW Clearance activities (only 6,569 internally displaced persons (IDPs) remaining to be resettled and over 300,000 IDPs were there at the end of the war in 2009 May).

* Success in re-cultivation process at Rice Bowl area in completion of Mine / ERW clearance (63,420 Metric Tons during Maha season)

* Opening the whole North Western coastal belt, rich from fishery products behind completion mines/ ERW clearance. (2011 1stQtr- 3,351,750kg Fresh fish and 372,750 kg dry fish)

* Clearance finished at A32 Main highway from Mannar to Vellankulam (clearance done for 41km distance and resume for constructions)

* A12 and A 5 Road rehabilitation after the Mine/ ERW Clearance(60km distance for both)

* Completion on Mine/ ERW clearance at two railway lines before resuming their constructions(148km between Omanthai to Kankasanthurai (KKS) and 106km Distance from Medawachchiya to Mannar)

* Regional development and revitalization against mine action productivity in North and East

* Opened Eastern beaches for the tourism after completion of Mine/ ERW clearance in the Eastern Province( Approximately 12km2 total area Mine/ ERW clearance completion)

*Opened access to two most famous religious heritages at Madu Church and Thirukeshwaran Hindu Temple. (reaching 700,000 and 500,000 pilgrims respectively in 2010)

MRE and victim assistance

In post-war conflict situation in the world, mine and ERW casualty rates reportedly were higher. In Sri Lanka it is better.

According to UNICEF, there were less than 50 incidents per year of landmine and ERW incidents but Sri Lanka has always reports fewer incidents each year.

As of December 2011, 17 incidents with 24 civilian victims from landmine and ERW were recorded, which compared to 27 incidents with 47 casualties in 2010. As it mentioned, this total is fairly low at 1.41 incidents per month - and indicative of the positive impact of the MRE programme. MRE has reached to almost all the corners of the landmine and ERW contaminated areas of North and East of Sri Lanka and particularly targeting MRE for over 300,000 IDPs and with the resettlement programme. MRE has been introduced as a subject by the Ministry of Education in the school curriculum targeting school children in order to educate them on risk taking behavior of landmine and ERW. Victims of landmine and ERW have considerably improved access to emergency medical care. The government and various international domestic organizations are engaged in providing a variety of facilities for mine victims, including medical treatment, psycho-social care such as counseling and rehabilitation for survivors, and livelihood development programmes.

Advocacy for landmine

Sri Lanka is not a party to the MBT. The mine-action strategy paper says that "Sri Lanka is making progress towards banning landmines in the country and its commitment to acceding to the MBT, which will guarantee that landmines will not be possessed or used in the future". Sri Lanka has already implemented many obligations under the MBT ie: National Mine Action Center, National Mine Actions Standards, non- use of anti-personal landmines by the security forces, Sri Lanka Army having its own Humanitarian Demining Unit, availability of accredited International/ National Mine Action operators in mine clearance, UNICEF conducting MRE and VA through its local partners.

SLCBL is working in partnership with the NMAC on advocacy.

Under this pillar, the main objective is to enhance awareness among civil society of effects of landmine and ERW. To achieve this, engagement with mass media for mobilizing stakeholders not only in mine action but also those who are focused on human security. SLCBL also lobbies for sensitizing MBT norms and CRPD among government stakeholders.

Challenges

* Sri Lanka's government continued commitment and support, and the continued support of the international community is needed to achieve vision of mine action strategy "Sri Lanka is free from the threat of landmines and ERW, where individuals and communities live in a safe environment and the needs of landmine and ERW victims are met".

* When the high priority areas get cleared, medium priority areas should become high priority. Such as ERW contaminated forest land needs to be cleared because many rural people's livelihoods depends on forest activities and also animals to live in a safer environment.

* MRE is an important pillar of the mine action as it helps to lower the rate of landmine and ERW causalities and it should continue till Sri Lanka reaches zero level landmine and ERW contamination.

* Continues provision of access to services needed for war-injured and war-disabled children and women. Insufficient funding may be experienced in the future on VA projects such as psycho-social care, counseling and rehabilitation for survivors, and livelihood development programmes and it has meant shortages in the delivery of these programmes and their sustainability itself in the long run.

* In principle GoSL supports the vision of a mine-free world. Sri Lanka has voted in favor of all annual United Nation General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions passed since 1997 and universalization of the MBT. The GoSL has also submitted article 7 transparency report on voluntary basis in 2005. The GoSL has reviewed it position with regard to the acceding to the MBT. However GoSL has yet to accede to the MBT.

 

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