A recent blog piece by Chris Loughran highlighted the important achievements of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) in helping to reduce the suffering caused by anti-personnel mines and the critical role that the Fourth Review Conference will play in setting the next steps and priorities for APMBC States Parties. Yet, even with these achievements, it is a sad reality that the number of people being killed or injured by mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) has seen increases in recent years. This blog looks at the reasons for this and possible ways forward.

Why the increase in mine and ERW casualties?

There are several reasons underlying this increase. Ongoing conflicts in Asia and the Middle East are major factors with many – previously safe – urban and rural areas now saturated with a variety of landmines, including improvised mines, improvised explosive devices and ERW. Large numbers of people displaced by fighting have had to travel through or near minefields and ERW-contaminated areas. Those who stay or return later often find their land and communities littered with explosive hazards.

High numbers of casualties are also evident where conflicts have ended, and where the dangers of mines and ERW are well known to the victims. Experience has shown that in many places daily needs and financial necessity will, over time, force people to partake in behaviour they know to be unsafe. When options are not readily available, some will attempt to remove and destroy mines and ERW themselves or collect them for sale as scrap metal. A number of rural communities threatened by anti-personnel mines have, with the passage of time, suffered increasing casualties from anti-vehicle mines as farmers begin to use mechanized machines in their work. Mines and ERW have also been displaced by landslides, floods and other natural hazards and destroyed existing markings. This shows that mine and ERW contamination, and the civilian population’s interaction with it, is not static. It can and often will evolve over time.

The role of mine action

Each of the five pillars of mine action has an essential role to play in addressing the problems caused by mines and ERW.[1] Mine risk education is a critical part of this response as it is the principal activity to help alert communities to the dangers of these weapons and allow them to take steps to reduce their exposure until the devices can be cleared. If casualties are on the rise, then risk education must identify the underlying causes and be enhanced to respond to the evolving circumstances. This includes recognizing the reasons for unsafe behaviour and the barriers to behaviour change – an area where traditional mine risk education is not particularly strong.

Given that mine and ERW contamination, and a community’s interaction with it, is multifaceted, an effective strategy must be able to appropriately respond to the situation on the ground. Disseminating information through posters, brochures and follow-up discussion has an important role to play, such as when displaced people are returning to their homes in contaminated areas, and programmes in schools can help pass important messages to children. But messages can fade over time and initial meanings may become less relevant as the related dangers and situation of affected communities evolve.

The importance of data collection

This highlights the important role that data collection must play in risk education efforts. Data will help clarify how civilian populations are affected by mines and ERW and inform programmes of trends or changes that are impacting their vulnerability. Data collection must be an ongoing process to ensure that the messages passed to communities are consistent with the circumstances on the ground and are directed at the right target audience. Particularly important is individual incident data as this is often the most direct way to obtain details on who is being killed and injured, the location of dangerous areas and the events and circumstances that have led to the accident. Community based engagement also plays an essential role as it can help identify unsafe behaviours and the reasons underlying them. This can help target and modify undesirable activities before accidents occur.

This also underscores that risk education must be complemented by additional programmatic contributions that provide people with alternatives to engaging in dangerous behaviour. Interaction with hazardous areas must be avoided, while still ensuring safe access to commodities (such as food, water, electricity and shelter supplies) and essential services (including sanitation, health care and communications). In many instances, this will require risk education programmes to be more closely coordinated with the work of other humanitarian and development organizations, and local authorities.

The Movement’s approach looking forward

These are some of the reasons that that the ICRC, in collaboration with the Norwegian Red Cross Society, has developed a holistic approach for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to help mine and ERW affected communities mitigate the dangers and increase resilience in weapon contaminated environments. This approach, “Risk Awareness and Safer Behaviour” (RASB), outlines the key components and indicators for a comprehensive programme. These include risk identification and assessment, developing appropriate risk awareness messages, facilitating safer behaviour and the monitoring and evaluation of risk and RASB interventions. The ICRC and the Norwegian Red Cross will share this approach and the Movement’s ongoing efforts in RASB at the APMBC Review Conference in Oslo, in late November 2019.

The Fourth Review Conference provides an opportunity for States to enhance mine risk education efforts and support approaches like risk awareness and safer behaviour to help reverse the recent rise in mine and ERW casualties. The Oslo Action Plan, a document prepared for the Conference to consider, outlines a number of important actions in mine risk education and related fields. One particularly important requisite under consideration is that State Parties would need to include detailed, multi-year plans for mine risk education and risk reduction for affected communities as part of a request to extend the Convention’s anti-personnel mine clearance deadlines. These actions, when taken together and applied with concerted effort, can go far in reversing dangerous trends and bringing greater benefit and relief to many civilians and their communities.

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Footnotes

[1] Mine action has five pillars of activity. These include: mine risk education; humanitarian demining – i.e. the survey, mapping, marking and clearance of mines and ERW; victim assistance; the destruction of stockpiles; and advocacy against the use of anti-personnel mines.

See also

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