The UN’s Own ‘Hurt Locker’ Operation

By now, you’ve likely seen The Hurt Locker–the Academy Award winning film about a U.S. bomb squad in Iraq.  Most people are probably unaware that the UN has its own Hurt Locker-esque operation: The UN Mine Action Service. The UN trains, funds, and deploys deminers in 30 countries and 2 territories across the world.  This work is a crucial humanitarian operation given that landmines and the explosive remnants of war kill or injure 15,000-20,000 people a year. These operations also promote economic development.  Landmines and UXOs render render large swaths of country sides out of bounds for commercial or agricultural development.  (Who wants to till land littered with mines?)

Much of the actual de-mining work is done by local and international NGOs.  For example, a quick search of the Mine Action program directory reveals that in Laos, an all-female de-mining team from Mines Advisory Group (the co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize) is working to clear 40 hectares of land for “pro-poor” development.  It turns out that Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world, per capita.  From the Mines Advisory Group:

More than 1.3 million tonnes of ordnance was dropped on the country between 1964 and 1973. Up to 30 per cent of some types of ordnance did not detonate. Unexploded ordnance (UXO) still contaminates the ground, affecting a quarter of all villages.

There were at least 50,000 UXO casualties between 1964 and mid-2008. Accident records for 2008 are not yet complete, but extrapolating the data already available indicates that there may have been a doubling of casualties from 2007, to about 600.

UXO contamination also keeps people poor by preventing them from using land. It is therefore is one of the prime factors limiting long-term development in Lao PDR. It diminishes food security and denies access to basic services, resulting in widespread poverty amongst rural populations.

I bring this up because today is the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. It seems fitting to give some recognition to people who put their lives on the line to clear up unexploded ordinances, mines, and other remnants of war.  Also, props to Canada and Japan for being major funders of this operation.   

Photo: UNAMA Special Representative of the Secretary-General Staffan de Mistura greets an Afghan deminer during the observation of the International Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action Day.  Dozens of deminers and other staff involved in mine awareness and rehabilitation of victims working for five implementing partners of the UN-supported Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan (MACCA) gathered at the compound of the Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation (OMAR) on the outskirts of Kabul on Saturday.  Eric Kanalstein (UNAMA) via flickr.