Mine Action: Implementation Challenges

Competing agendas of actors

From the early to the mid-1990s, mine action was dependent on ex-military personnel for training and implementing clearance operations. At an operational level, the objectives of military mine clearance was to breach or clear a safe passage through a mined area. As such, military mine clearance often did not debrief communities on the process of the safe return to agricultural and communal land. From the mid-1990s, international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) began to inhabit the space that was once filled by military deminers. The early 1990s also saw the growth of commercial agencies, some staffed with a pool of trained ex-military officials. Their lack of a political agenda and contract-based approach made them an attractive option to donors. The expansion of commercial agencies into the humanitarian sector also reflects their flexibility and adaptability.

Throughout the early 1990s, a few vanguard NGOs specialized in technical and operational humanitarian mine action. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) provided medical assistance and rehabilitation to landmine victims and had separate initiative to help communities cope with landmine and unexploded ordnances (UXO) contamination. These few NGOs were pioneers in establishing mine action projects, including the first large-scale humanitarian demining program in Afghanistan (1989), and later in Cambodia (1991), Mozambique (1992/93), Angola (1994), Laos PDR (1994), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1996), Croatia (1996), and northern Iraq (1997). International assistance was also provided to Nicaragua (1993) and Rwanda (1995), where mine action was conducted primarily by the local military.

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Lack of integration and coherence in activities

The emergence of mine action as a humanitarian field was marked by a period of trial and error. There were disagreements among various professionals and organizations that came to shape the mine action community (e.g., military, public health, commercial firms, international NGOs, donors, etc.). At the beginning, the various programs pursued their own strategies in isolation from each other, and virtually all of them had to learn what did and did not work in a particular environment. In addition, donors came on board in support of mine action activities at different times, often advocating different approaches. There was no leadership or focal point coordinating the different actors in the field until the mid-1990s. The majority of programs were implemented in countries where the governments did not exercise complete control over the country, so the creation of national authorities and mine action centers required extensive negotiations (at times with factions that did not want landmines cleared and were not committed to peace).1

The absence of a better understanding of how mine action could be linked with peacebuilding activities led to limited and counterproductive results. For instance, in Mozambique, road clearance was prioritized as an immediate way to support the United Nations (UN) peacebuilding mission. However, after hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of contracts were doled out to clear 2,000 km of roads, only six mines were uncovered.  Go to Case Studies: Mozambique: Humanitarian demilitarization

In Sri Lanka, demining activities paved the way for the reopening of Highway A9, which allowed internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return home to communities that had not been cleared, which resulted in casualties.

The integration of mine action and other development programs in Cambodia has contributed to the building of a more sustainable economic community. Over 90 percent of the casualties reported in 2004 were civilians who were pursuing livelihoods to feed their families. Recognizing that many displaced communities end up economically worse off after the conflict because of poverty, the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority insisted that all mine clearance activities needed to contribute to sustainable economic growth and improved management of national resources. Austcare, which has been operating in Cambodia since 2001, implemented an integrated mine action program in the Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear provinces in Cambodias northwest region. The program combines mine clearance with improvements to the water supply and sanitation or with agricultural extension activities (e.g., farmer field schools, food production, and adult literacy training).2

Although it is acknowledged that landmines affect the socio-economic development needs of affected communities, many activities in the two sectors operate separately. Some of the key challenges for linking mine action and development activities include building development expertise within the mine action sector, coordinating mine action and development activities, and securing adequate funding to permit mine action and development activities to be integrated. Since funding is rarely coordinated at the donor, international agency, or national level, mine action and development programs sometimes occur either sequentially or in parallel with each other.3

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Demining as an underfunded, dangerous, and laborious process

Demining is still inherently dangerous, and most tasks are labor intensive and painfully slow. Despite progress in demining over the past decade, many countries still are dotted with mines and explosive remnants from past conflicts. UN mine action expert Christopher Horwood argues, At the local and program level, clearance operations are regularly taking place with minimal knowledge of the ultimate use these resource-rich activities will yield. The assumed benefits are often based on untested assumptions, guesses and general observations, and rarely on criteria grounded on sound analysis and data-based prioritization.4

Landmine Monitorresearch indicates that 99 states and eight other areas are affected to some degree by mined and/or battle areas.5 Most mine action programs have funding problems of some kind and some are so chronically under-funded that they continually struggle for survival. One of the disadvantages of integration with other international aid initiatives is that mine action is continually competing for funds. The shortage of funding means that many organizations are ill equipped, or at least unable to acquire the equipment best suited to their task. In the field, a lack of funding can prevent organizations from purchasing the equipment best suited to their task. Poorer military-run programs sometimes have to make do with obsolete or unsuitable military-issue equipment.6

Mine and Battle Area Clearance, 2006

Mine Area Clearance (km2)

Battle Area Clearance (km2)










Bosnia and Herzegovina





















Sri Lanka















Source: International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Mine Action: Lessons from the Last Decade of Mine Action, in Landmine Monitor Report 2007 (Ottawa: Mines Action Canada, October 2007).
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Failure to comply with stockpile elimination

According to the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD), The world has made inroads into global stockpiles, estimated at more than 250 million anti-personnel mines prior to the entry into force of the anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention. Sometimes progress has been slow, sometimes there have even been concerns about slow timing, but generally the obligation has been implemented in good faith. But most stockpiled anti-personnel mines remain outside the purview of the Convention. China and the Russian Federation hold the bulk of these and neither appears ready to accede to the Convention at an early stage. Despite apparently destroying many millions of stockpiled anti-personnel mines that did not comply with Amended Protocol II, the Russian Federation has continued to use landmines in its ongoing military operations in Chechnya. Getting these and other major military powers, such as India, Pakistan and the US, to destroy their stockpiles will demand political will that has so far proved absent.7

The Landmine Monitor estimates that more than 14 million anti-personnel (AP) mines remain to be destroyed by 10 States Parties that still have to complete their stockpile destruction programs. A total of eight states parties are in the process of destroying their stockpiles: Afghanistan, Belarus (3.37 million remaining), Burundi (610), Greece (1.6 million), Indonesia, Sudan, Turkey (2.87 million), and Ukraine (6.3 million). While they have not yet officially declared stockpiles in Article 7 reports, Ethiopia and Iraq are also thought to stockpile AP mines.8

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) has noted the different interpretations of Articles 1, 2, and 3 of the Mine Ban Convention and the resultant variance in implementation over the years. These interpretations include what acts are permitted or not under the Conventions ban on assisting prohibited acts, especially in the context of joint military operations with states not party to the treaty; foreign stockpiling and transit of AP mines; the applicability of the treaty to anti-vehicle mines with sensitive fuses or anti-handling devices; and the acceptable number of mines retained for training purposes.9

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Uneven implementation due to differences in interpretations of the Mine Ban Convention

In terms of mines retained for training purposes, the Convention under Article 3.1 stipulates, The retention or transfer of a number of antipersonnel mines for the development of and training in mine detection, mine clearance, or mine destruction techniques is permitted. The amount of such mines shall not exceed the minimum number absolutely necessary for the above-mentioned purposes.10 The provision has been widely interpreted by States Parties to mean that hundreds or thousands, but not tens of thousands may be retained.11 Therefore, of the 155 States Parties, 69 retain almost 228,000 anti-personnel (AP) mines for research and training purposes.12

At least 44 States Parties did not report consuming any retained mines in 2006. Eighteen countries have not reported consuming any mines for permitted purposes since the treaty entered into force for those countries. ICBL told states parties in April 2007 that it is increasingly convinced that there is widespread abuse of the exception in Article 3. It appears that many states parties are retaining more AP mines than absolutely necessary and are not using mines retained under Article 3 for the permitted purposes.13

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Ineffective use of resources and land release

It is not uncommon for deminers to spend approximately 90 percent of their time clearing areas where there is a limited number of or no mines at all. A 2004 Geneva Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) study revealed that of the 15 different programs that involved physical mine clearance, less than 2.5 percent of the land that was cleared were contaminated with mines and UXO.14 While the technical and practical challenges of surveying and detecting landmines are great, there are still some agencies that would rather clear areas where in all likelihood there are no mines, rather than undertake a thorough analysis.

Recognizing that the current methods are slow and costly, GICHD, Norwegian Peoples Aid, and the UN have all started to develop land release techniques (e.g., using general and technical surveys) to allow the rapid release of land and road sectors.15 Land release denotes a structured and quantified assessment of the presence or absence of threats from explosive remnants of war, such as using general and technical surveys.16 On a practical level, this means that mine clearance will move away from slow and costly clearance processes toward systematic analysis and information gathering and surveying in order to avoid the waste of important resources.

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Capacity building in mine action

Mine action and capacity development are typically conceived as two operational realms. The first realm denotes the post-conflict environment, where humanitarian relief, infrastructure reconstruction, and reconciliation need an emergency response. Financial and political resources can be gathered quickly at this stage. The second operational realm denotes activities related to capacity building, which generally take place in conditions that are somewhat more stable or in a development context. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) usually partners with the governments of mine-affected countries to establish national capacity to handle landmine problems that prevent reconstruction and to mainstream development efforts. UNDP Chief Technical Advisor at the National Committee for Demining and Rehabilitation in Jordan Olaf Juergensen remarks, Mine action in general has benefited from adopting the best practices approach in many operational areas; however, for the practice of capacity development, we have no organising conceptual or technical body of work to draw upon. We do have a great deal of descriptive/historical informational reporting quantifiable outputs achieved (e.g. national plans completed, standards established, the Information Management System for Mine Action operationalised, etc.), but we have scant work on the capacity-development outcomes of our work (direct and indirect) and the vitality of the institutions and systems established to help modernise and enhance national capacity to realise its ownership and leadership responsibilities.17

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Challenges to victim assistance

The medical centers under national ministries of health, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Handicap International, and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, to name a few of the key service providers, are engaged in various aspects of assistance, notably physical rehabilitation. However, few improvements have been made in provisions to assist landmine and UXO victims. The three main issues identified by the Standing Committee on Victim Assistance in 1999 remain a challenge to this sector, namely (1) how to collect and share information on victims, (2) how to gain sufficient attention from donors, and (3) how to coordinate victim assistance activities more effectively.18

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Difficulties in obtaining accurate measurements

Challenges of accurate data for victim assistance

The ability to obtain comprehensive data on mine and explosive remnants of war (ERW) casualties for mine action planning purposes remains challenging. Forty-eight of 68 countries or areas that reported new casualties in 2006 used the Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA) or another data collection mechanism, but 92 percent of their reports are considered incomplete. About 20 countries, some severely mine- and ERW-affected, do not have any surveillance mechanism. As a consequence, the Landmine Monitor obtains casualty information through media analysis and other sources. In fact, the Landmine Monitor identified 19 percent of 2006 mine-related casualties through media monitoring. Only 8 percent of casualties were recorded in countries with complete data collection systems, and 73 percent were recorded in countries with limited data collection. Underreporting is certain. Even in countries where data collection is considered complete, it is possible that casualties in remote areas are not reported.19

Difficulties in claiming success for mine awareness and risk education

As one of the five pillars of mine action, mine risk education has received substantial donor support since the end of the 1980s.20 The achievements made in this sector defy straightforward measurement, however, because of the complex mix of factors that affect vulnerable communities with risk. For instance, if a remotely reliable database of mine accidents existed in an area, a comparison of before and after mine awareness and risk education would not be a sufficient measurement of impact because other factors also affect the rise and fall of mine accidents (e.g., farming activities and population movement). Moreover, the quantitative data used by the majority of agencies only indicate the number of individuals trained, materials distributed, and number of communities visited. GICHD also points out that some completed general surveys and detailed maps of contaminated, suspected, and known clear areas are not shared with local communities.21

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Limitations of mine risk education and awareness

Although the Landmine Monitor conducted a study based on its own country reports in 2006 to 2007 and concluded that mine risk education has increased and its quality has improved overall,22 the mine action community has increasingly come to the conclusion that traditional mine risk education (e.g., posters, messages, and workshops) is only relevant in emergency contexts. In non-emergency contexts, such as Cambodia and Laos, mine risk education and awareness workshops have been less effective as people still enter contaminated areas despite having received mine risk education because of livelihood concerns. Despite a considerable increase in activities related to reaching affected communities, training local trainers, and exposing large portions of affected communities to the risk of mines, the volume speaks little of the quality of education and awareness raising and thus the impact of these efforts on community behavior.

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Dilemmas in transferring international mine action programs to national authorities

Mine action experts Kjell Erling Kjellman and Kristian Berg Harpviken argue that the pace and extent to which mine action programs have come under the authority of national governments and institutions is unsatisfactory. Mine action is typically characterized by externally managed mechanisms dominated by international organizations that have only limited success in building sustainable national capacities. From the perspective of national ownership, this raises a number of challenges in terms of the extent to which responsibility for mine action can been transferred to national authorities and institutions, and how policy can be designed and implemented to facilitate national ownership.23
Changes in National Management of Mine Action Programs

On June 12, 2007, a presidential decree transferred all functions of the Antipersonnel Mines Observatory to the new Presidential Program for Integrated Action Against Antipersonnel Mines.

Lebanon: The National De-mining Office (NDO), part of the Lebanese Armed Forces, drafted a mine action policy in which it was made responsible for managing the mine action program that was approved in May 2007. The NDO was renamed the Lebanese Mine Action Center under the command of the deputy chief of staff for operations of the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Uganda: A mine action policy was formally adopted in October 2006, pending cabinet approval. In April 2007, Uganda announced that mine action would move into a nationally executed program during the year, and it appealed to UNDP to quicken the process.

Source: International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Landmine Monitor Report 2007 (Ottawa: Mines Action Canada, October 2007).

In order for national authorities to take charge of mine action programs, the executive and legislative bodies need to be able to assume the responsibility of setting policy and overseeing and managing mine action at the national level. Alan Bryden notes, Overall planning and priorities need to be agreed at the national level and sequencing is essential: why clear schools if there are no teachers? Security sector governance actors should also be much more closely implicated in an aspect of mine action programming that receives insufficient attention: corruption. Diversion of funds, self-interested selection of clearance tasks and land-grabbing have long been associated with certain demining programmes.24

In Kosovo, the handover of UN mine action activities to the newly founded government in December 2001 occurred too early for the national authorities to handle. At the time, senior management posts were still held by international staff and the lack of capacity in the ministries was evident. As a result, the authority for mine action was moved back to the UN special representative in 2004.

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Reining in non-state actors

Although a significant number of non-state actors (NSAs) have indicated a willingness to observe a ban on anti-personnel (AP) mines, many others have not agreed to the Deed of Commitment and continue to resort to the use of AP mines or improvised explosive devices. For instance, Colombian guerrillas and Burmese opposition groups are reluctant to renounce their weapons and retain large stocks of mines in the territories under their control.

Implementation of the Deed of Commitment also has been hampered by a lack of technical assistance. A number of signatories have been unable to implement mine action on their own (especially mine clearance and stockpile destruction) because of limited technical knowledge. As of 2006, NSAs in four States Parties"Burundi, the Philippines, Senegal, and Sudan"and one state not party to the Convention, Nepal, have agreed to abide by the ban on AP mines through bilateral agreements with governments.25 Some groups encounter problems in ensuring that all their rank and file adhere to the obligations of the Deed of Commitment.In some countries, Geneva Call encountered problems with accessing NSAs operating in remote areas. For example, in Somalia, the volatile security situation and renewed clashes in 2006 prevented Geneva Call and its technical partners from inspecting mine stocks held by signatory factions and from arranging for their destruction.

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Difficulties in quantifying results

Despite the normative shift to a people-centered approach, there appears to be a veritable gap between the core objectives of the Mine Ban coalition and the degree to which mine action activities have been able to improve the well-being of the mine-affected communities. One of the major problems in measuring mine action performance is the lack of rigorous data, both quantitative and qualitative. Christopher Horwood notes, In some cases there is a lack of will to analyse or invest in appropriate studies, given a sector climate in which there is an unspoken sentiment that any mine clearance is good mine clearance and any investment in mine action saves lives and has an automatic positive socioeconomic impact. There is a tendency to operate with optimistic assumptions and unproven premises. Unlike other sectors of assistance, the mine action sector has neither embraced a benefits-harm analysis of its work.26

At the same time, the impact of mine action is poorly understood, inadequately analyzed, and rarely measured at the field level. Questions of relevance(e.g., are the objectives set for the program consistent with government and donor policies and the requirements of the beneficiaries?), effectiveness (e.g., have we achieved the planned objectives and enhanced the well-being of people in mine-afflicted communities?), sustainability(e.g., will the benefits to these people and communities last?), and impact (e.g., what are all the consequences, intended and unintended, for better or for worse, of our mine action?) have remained unanswered. Yet, the inability to answer these key questions, combined with the fact that mine action programs in heavily contaminated countries will not be able to declare victory in the short to medium term, poses great problems when donors seek an accounting of the benefits generated with their funds and when host governments try to gauge what mine action (relative to other claims on the public purse) promises for their citizens and for the countrys overall development.27

1. GICHD, Mine Action: Lessons and Challenges, 277-78.
2. Sally Campbell, "Integrated Mine Action: A Rights-Based Approach in Cambodia," Journal of Mine Action 9, no. 2 (2006).
3. Rebecca Roberts and Gary Littlejohn, "Maximizing the Impact: Tailoring Mine Action to Development Needs," International Peace Research Institute Report 5 (2005).
4. Horwood, "Ideological and Analytical Foundations," 947.
5. ICBL, Executive Summary, in Landmine Monitor Report 2007, 23.
6. GICHD, Mine Action: Lessons and Challenges, 34-35.
7. Ibid., 34-35, 202-03.
8. ICBL, Executive Summary, in Landmine Monitor Report 2007, 15.
9. Ibid., 19.
10. 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction.
11. GICHD, Mine Action: Lessons and Challenges, 197.
12. ICBL, Executive Summary, in Landmine Monitor Report 2007, 17.
13. Ibid., 18.
14. Geneva Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD), A Guide to Land Release: Non-technical Methods, (Geneva: GICHD, November 2008), 6.
15. For more information, see http://www.gichd.org/operational-assistance-research/land-release/overview/ and http://www.npaid.org.
16. Per Nergaard, "Land Release Concepts," Norwegian Peoples Aid (September 19, 2006).
17. Olaf Juergensen, "Capacity Building in Mine Action: Are We There Yet?" Journal of Mine Action 11, no. 1 (2007).
18. ICBL, Executive Summary, in Landmine Monitor Report 2007, 18; GICHD, Mine Action: Lessons and Challenges, 185.
19. ICBL, Executive Summary, in Landmine Monitor Report 2007, 41-42.
20. Ibid., 41-42.
21. GICHD, Mine Action: Lessons and Challenges, 161-62.
22. ICBL, Executive Summary, in Landmine Monitor Report 2007, 37.
23. Kjell Erling Kjellman and Kristian Berg Harpviken, "Meeting the Challenge: National Ownership in Mine Action," International Peace Research Institute Policy Brief (2006), 1.
24. Bryden, Optimising Mine Action Policies; Harpviken and Skåra, Humanitarian Mine Action,167.
25. ICBL, Executive Summary, in Landmine Monitor Report 2007, 9.
26. Horwood, "Ideological and Analytical Foundations," 944-45.
27. Ibid., 944-45; GICHD, Mine Action: Lessons and Challenges, 305-06.

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