The United States joins the global community on April 4th of each year, the UN International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, to reflect on both the progress made and the challenges remaining in clearing landmines, hidden hazards which endanger communities in more than 60 countries around the world. Here are a few things you should know:
1. The United States is the World’s Largest Financial Supporter of Conventional Weapons Destruction
The United States, the world’s single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction, shares common cause with those working to address the harmful effects of indiscriminately used landmines on civilians and to prevent small arms and light weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists. For more than 20 years, the United States has invested more than $2.8 billion in more than 95 countries around the world to reduce the harmful worldwide effects of at-risk, illicitly proliferated, and indiscriminately used conventional weapons of war.
2. U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Programs are Critical in our Effort to Defeat ISIS in Countries like Iraq and Syria
In the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), demining plays a pivotal role. As ISIS is defeated on the battlefield and displaced people return home, restoring critical infrastructure is key to ensuring that ISIS stays out once pushed out. However, ISIS is leaving improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other explosive hazards in its wake, intentionally booby-trapping places like hospitals, schools, and places of worship. Removing these explosive hazards is the crucial first step in stabilizing these liberated areas, clearing the way for restoration of clean water, electricity, emergency health services, and education. Last year, the United States invested more than $30 million in Iraq alone to clear IEDs and other explosive hazards in areas liberated from ISIS control. This assistance, directed through several Iraqi and international nongovernmental organizations, has made significant progress toward countering ISIS, making possible the return of internally-displaced persons and refugees. Programs supported by the United States are restoring access to land and infrastructure and developing the capacity of the Iraqis to manage the programs over the long term.
Demining plays an essential role in stabilization both in Iraq and Syria as civilians seek to return to their homes. This has been a priority of the U.S. government for some time, and will continue to be a priority as we go forward in our campaign to defeat ISIS.
3. Many Countries are Mine-free as a Result of U.S. Investment in Mine Action
Many countries have become free from the impact of landmines due to the efforts of the United States and our international partners. U.S. efforts have helped 16 countries declare themselves mine free, the most recent being Mozambique — which had been one of the most heavily-mined countries — in 2015. Despite this progress, much work remains to be done.
4. U.S. Support Includes Life-saving Education, Training, and Rehabilitation
In addition to the physical removal of landmines and unexploded ordnance, the United States invests in mine risk education to prevent accidents and provides prosthetics, physical rehabilitation services, and vocational training for the injured. In Iraq, as civilians flee large population centers like Mosul, displaced families live in areas where they are not familiar with the local mine and unexploded ordnance hazards. As families begin to return to their homes, they are confronted with hazards from the recent conflict as well as deliberate mining and booby-trapping of homes by ISIS. Our support for risk education to more than 90,000 Iraqi men, women, and children is saving lives and preventing injuries with outreach programs to warn about the potential dangers.
5. Conventional Weapons Destruction: More than Demining
U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction programs also prevent small arms, light weapons, and conventional ammunition from falling into the hands of those who would attack U.S. citizens and our allies. Stockpiles of excess conventional arms pose a range of security-related and humanitarian threats. Terrorists, insurgents, and criminals exploit poorly-secured munitions to fuel instability and violence that imperil U.S. security interests. Where poorly-secured stockpiles include man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), the consequences of theft or loss could have wide-ranging, catastrophic outcomes. In addition, poorly-maintained stockpiles may explode without notice, devastating nearby civilian populations. Conventional Weapons Destruction programs assist partner countries with destroying their excess, unstable, and at-risk munitions including MANPADS; improving physical security at munitions storage facilities; and bringing stockpile management practices into line with international standards.