Despite funding shortfall, almost 60 sq km land freed of mines and explosive remnants of war

Almost 60 square kilometer land was successfully released from mines and explosive remnants of war through clearance operations in the 12 months up to March 2015, said a report by Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan (MAPA), released this week.

According to the report, the organization succeeded in making 58.5 square kilometers mine-free, clearing 1,452 hazardous areas in more than 100 districts across the country.

A total of 157 villages in 75 districts were declared entirely free of all known mines and explosive remnants of war.

However, the report, which details the activities of MAPA between April 2014 and March 2015, states that the organization fell short of Ottawa Extension Request work plan to clear 83.8 square kilometer during this period.

The report indicates that a decrease in funding not only resulted in MAPA not achieving its stated objectives this year, but also set the programme back, which MAPA officials say might jeopardize its long-term objective of making Afghanistan completely mine-free by 2023.

“While donor funding has decreased in recent years, MAPA remains committed to the work plan and to continually improving the overall productivity of the programme,” reads the report. “However, the sharp decrease in funding this year has set back the programme and places the achievement of the 2023 deadline to declare Afghanistan mine-free in doubt.”

The funding target for this period was USD 78.2 million, including the coordination cost of mine action. Of this total, MAPA received just under USD 43 million from the donors including the Afghan government, through the UN Voluntary Trust Fund (VTF).

According to the report, the remaining 4,266 hazardous areas continue to impact 1,603 communities, 255 districts and 33 provinces, indirectly affecting the Afghan economy, as they “block access to arable land in many cases and also impede the delivery of key development initiatives”.

“The year will be remembered as one of changes and challenges. The number of victims increased, especially from the increased threat of pressure-plate IEDs. Security worsened. The 34 deminers who were killed in 1393 was equal to the sum total of the previous four years,” said Jeffery McMurdo, the program manager of UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS).

“There is no justification for these attacks. Deminers are humanitarian workers. Funding declined for the third consecutive year. For the first time the annual operational targets were not achieved. National implementing partners found their financial resources failing to properly sustain their core operating capacity. UNMAS had almost a complete changeover of international staff,” he added.

Mohammad Sediq Rashid, director of Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan, said efforts of mine action organisations in Afghanistan has brought the country “80 percent closer to removing landmines and explosive remnants of war”.

“One remarkable achievement this year was the expansion of the largest ever ERW clearance operations in the world, that of the abandoned international military high-explosive training ranges (firing ranges),” he said.

In addition to detailing MAPA’s clearance operations, the report highlights how MAPA representatives have been delivering risk-awareness education to communities across Afghanistan, with a particular focus on children who form the largest group of victims of mines and explosive remnants of war.

MAPA, which is one of the largest mine action programmes in the world, was launched in 1988 to help Afghans rid their land of dangerous weapons that risk their life and property.

Under the programme, residential and agricultural fields are surveyed and cleared and people are given mine awareness training.

On the occasion of Mine Awareness Day in April this year, Dr. Mohammad Daim Kakar, the director general of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), said while 80 percent area across the country has been cleared of mines and other remnants of war, some 4,000 sites still need to be demined.

The theme for this year was “More than Mines,” which was designed to raise awareness about “the reality faced by civilians, humanitarians, peacekeepers and development agencies in war-zones and countries recovering from conflict”.

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