A hundred and four countries this week signed an historic treaty formally renouncing the use of cluster bombs, but the effort to clear their residue as well as landmines languish in the funding doldrums, a senior United Nations official laments.
UN Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions Dmitry Titov says the larger effort to rid the world of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) “that kill and maim thousands of people years after[wards]” is facing a gigantic funding shortfall, with less than 5% of the amount needed for next year secured so far.
“Without full donor support many of Mine Action initiatives will have to be cancelled and more civilians will be at risk of losing limbs, lives and livelihood,” Titov told a news conference in New York.
The UN News Centre says Titov requires US$459-million for the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) but has only raised US$22 million so far. This time last year nearly double – US$40 million had been secured to fund this year`s projects, for which the budget was US$404-million.
“The portfolio of mine action projects is critical in our view to efforts to protect civilian populations and we urge again and again donors, traditional and untraditional ones, to step forward to help us meet this funding shortfall,” he said.
The UNMAS currently funds 300 projects to root out mines and UXO in 33 countries and territories.
Of these, 32 deal with cluster munitions, which have gained added prominence with this week`s Oslo meeting.
First used in World War II, they contain dozens of smaller explosives designed to disperse over an area the size of several soccer fields; 15%t of them fail to detonate upon impact, creating large de facto minefields. They have claimed over 10 000 lives, 98% of them civilians, and 40% of these children.
The cluster bomb convention – signed by defence minister Charles Nqakula on behalf of South Africa on Wednesday – will enter into force after ratifications by 30 states. The treaty commits signatories to assist victims, clear contaminated areas and destroy stockpiles.
Over the past year 72 countries were reported to be affected by landmines or the explosive remnants of war, and there were 5426 casualties “although the actual number may be much higher as there is often a problem with under-reporting.”
About one quarter of land mine victims worldwide are children and the country with the most casualties last year was Colombia.
Anti-personnel mines are not only used by governments. Last year, usage by non-state groups was reported in Afghanistan, Colombia, Ecuador, Iraq, India, Myanmar, Pakistan, Peru and Sri Lanka.
Titov stressed that Mine Action also helped the safe deployment of peacekeepers in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lebanon and Sudan – where SA has about 600 peacekeepers.
“In Sudan over 25 000 kilometres of roads have been cleared extending the reach of peacekeeping operations and civilians even to areas where no cars or trucks have been seen in 30 years,” he said. “In Afghanistan, under the most difficult conditions, over 1 billion metres of land have been cleared, halving the number of casualties from unexploded ordnance and freeing up vital agricultural land for cultivation.”