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Mines – the dangerous legacy of war

Ukrainian deminer Tetiana Nykyforova in a minefield in Donetsk region

Ukrainian deminer Tetiana Nykyforova in a minefield in Donetsk region, © HALO Trust

12.05.2021 - Article

Mines, booby-traps and unexploded ordnance prevent life from getting back to normal after a conflict. That’s why Germany is active worldwide in efforts to clear mines and munitions. One focal area of our work is Ukraine.

Mines and munitions are an enduring danger – even well after a conflict is over. They pose an obstacle to peace missions, stabilisation programmes and access for humanitarian agencies. They also make it harder for internally displaced persons to return home and for the necessary reconstruction to take place. Mines also mean that many people cannot use their agricultural land or forest areas, and so lose a vital part of their livelihood.

Almost 1000 mine deaths in Ukraine already

Lethal remnants: Ukraine is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world
Lethal remnants: Ukraine is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world© Mines Advisory Group

Ukraine is now one of the most contaminated countries in the world in terms of mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW).

In eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian Government and separatists supported by Russia are engaged in an armed conflict, which has already claimed the lives of more than 3300 civilians. Thousands of mines, booby traps and munition remnants lie along the 450km long contact line. The Landmine Monitor 2020 presumes that more than 7000 km² are contaminated – that’s an area roughly ten times the size of Hamburg. Since 2014, at least 959 people have died and 1840 have been injured as a result.

A contaminated leisure park is cleared

Petro Mykolayovych explains what the contamination really means in practice. He is a watchman in Pervomaisk, in Luhansk region. He guards grounds that were, from 2014 to 2017, a military base protected by mines. The soldiers have gone, but the mines remain. Before the war, the grounds were used for something else entirely – summer camps for children. Now Petro keeps an eye on things and is responsible for ensuring that nobody unknowingly enters the danger sites.

But now there is hope. The NGO Halo, which runs mine clearance projects around the world, is getting ready to clear the park. Germany supports the NGO’s work in Ukraine with one million euro each year.

Recreating safe conditions for everyday life

Halo’s work in Ukraine helps protect the more than 25,000 people who live in the affected areas. It enables humanitarian agencies to access those in need. Fields can be used again and infrastructure rebuilt. The project thereby paves the way for long-term positive developments in the economy and society. At the same time, it lays the groundwork that will enable displaced people to return in safety and dignity.

The Federal Foreign Office supports a total of three organisations active in mine clearance in Ukraine, in order to make progress on this issue as fast as possible. In addition to Halo, these are UNICEF and the Danish Demining Group.

International mine action

Germany is also internationally active in efforts to eliminate mines. The country is, for example, a state party to the Ottawa Convention – an international treaty that bans anti-personnel mines and has been ratified by 164 states. Germany has also signed up to the Oslo Convention, which bans cluster munitions, and the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. The German Government is a persuasive advocate for the universal implementation and application of these international conventions.

In addition, Germany supports projects run by other aid organisations which seek to ensure that life can go on after fighting has come to an end and that displaced persons can return home. In 2020, Germany provided almost 50 million euro for this purpose. Priority is attached to work in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Ukraine.

The focus is on the four pillars of demining, which were also included in the Federal Foreign Office Humanitarian Mine Action Strategy within the framework of Federal Government humanitarian assistance: mine/ERW survey and clearance, mine risk education for people in affected regions, victim assistance, and outreach.

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