Why mine action matters: humanitarian diplomacy in Southeast Asia

As UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab visits Brunei-Darussalam — the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — to strengthen ties and invest in long term partnerships as a force for good in the region, MAG takes a look at the positive humanitarian, economic, and diplomatic role of mine action.

Around the world, landmines and unexploded bombs claim lives long after war has ended — on average, 15 people are killed or injured every day. These indiscriminate weapons also have a crippling impact on development, preventing land from being farmed, children from going to school, and keeping families and communities trapped in poverty.

Tens of thousands of landmines and cluster munitions litter Southeast Asia — a deadly result of conflict in the region. The scourge afflicts half of the ASEAN member states, as well as neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka.

The impact of contamination from landmines and cluster munitions is so extensive in Laos and Cambodia that these countries have adopted additional localised Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), recognising the importance of integrating mine action into broader development objectives.

Laos is the most bombed country in history per capita — more than 270 million cluster submunitions were dropped between 1964-1973. In addition to the 17 global SDGs, Laos has an 18th that aims to see “lives safe from unexploded ordnance” by 2030.

Cambodia – a country committed to achieving the Landmine Free 2025 goal – has an 18th SDG which aims to “end the negative impact of mines and explosive remnants of war and promote victim assistance”.

But life-saving ambitions are unlikely to be met without sufficient and sustained support from the international community.

Mine action saves and changes lives. In 2009, MAG worked to clear scores of schools of the deadly legacy of conflict in Khammouane, Laos — a province with the lowest enrolment and retention rates in the country. MAG teams cleared more than 5,000m² — about the size of a football field — around Phom Toum school, freeing the school from fear and supporting the community to provide a safe education for girls and boys.

Girls and boys who would normally help their families farm the land or collect scrap metal to sell were encouraged to attend school, with the provision of free school lunches. The food for the lunches was grown on land cleared by MAG. In the first two years of the project, 115 schools were cleared and improved — and enrolment increased by 30 per cent.

Demining also boosts economic growth through employment and creates a catalyst for improvement in other areas of development. A study last year in Sri Lanka found 70 per cent of female deminers, and 60 per cent of male deminers, reported an increase in the number of years their children spent in school. Almost nine in 10 female deminers and three-quarters of male deminers also reported greater access to food as a direct result of their employment.

The UK can realise its mission to be a force for good in the region by recognising the far-reaching impact and effects of landmines and unexploded ordnance — and continuing to support clearance efforts to remove the threats once and for all.

The UK has a proud history of supporting mine action in Southeast Asia, making a critical investment in the region which frees families from fear and paves the way for development.

Using its upcoming presidency of the Convention on Cluster Munitions — an international treaty banning cluster bombs — the UK has a unique opportunity to demonstrate how development and diplomacy can work together, encouraging ASEAN countries affected by cluster munitions but not yet party to the Convention, such as Vietnam and Cambodia, to sign up, while also showing the tangible, concrete and measurable benefits of continued UK Aid funding for mine action across the region.

 

Source: Mines Advisory Group