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Mine Ban Treaty at Fifteen: Call to commit to clearing deadly landmines from Western Sahara

Photo 2 AOAV clearance teams, Mijek, September 2013

AOAV Clearance Teams in Mijek, Western Sahara

Fifteen years after the Mine Ban Treaty came into force, Western Sahara remains one of the most heavily mined areas of the world, with over 100,000 Saharawi living with the destructive legacy of landmines, cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war.  Largely overlooked, Western Sahara remains one of the longest standing international crises in Africa.  Conflict from 1975 to 1991 resulted in thousands killed, large numbers of Saharawi refugees living in Algeria for nearly 40 years, and the littering of Western Sahara with explosive devices.  These destructive items continue to endanger lives and prevent the traditionally nomadic Saharawi people from engaging in livelihoods activities.

Action On Armed Violence (AOAV) deploys specialist demining and clearance teams in Western Sahara to clear these deadly remnants of war.  Since 2007, with support from the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), and the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, AOAV has cleared over 26 million square metres of land and 20,000 dangerous items east of the thousand mile, man-made berm that divides the territory.  AOAV continues to be the only international mine clearance operator in Western Sahara while also providing 24/7 emergency medical response to mine-related incidents, building local capacities in mine action, and supporting victims and their families through livelihoods projects.

Despite AOAV’s efforts, the challenge remains great.  At least 38 suspected hazardous, mine-affected areas and 45 cluster strike areas remain to be cleared outside of the five-kilometre buffer strip.

Meanwhile, the number of Saharawi victims of explosive remnants of war continues to grow.  Only two days ago on 27 February, AOAV provided emergency assistance to a 28 year old Saharawi man who suffered injuries after a munition exploded in his hands.  With MINURSO support he was evacuated to hospital to receive emergency care; the medical treatment provided by AOAV and the UN are the only life-lines for mine-affected communities in remote areas of Western Sahara with limited access to medical facilities.

Landmine survivor Sidi with his family in Aluin Camp, Western Sahara

The impact of landmines and explosive remnants of war is long lasting.  AOAV assists landmine survivors like Sidi who stepped on an anti-personnel mine and lost his leg over 30 years ago. For decades Sidi struggled to support his 11 children as his disability made it difficult for him to engage in economic activities and access credit.  With AOAV support, Sidi formed a cooperative with other survivors to rear and trade livestock, with the group earning a 30 per cent profit in its first year.

AOAV, as part of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), is calling for states and the international community to take on the Completion Challenge and finish the work of clearing the millions of landmines across affected states soon as possible, and no later than 10 years after the Third Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty.  The Third Review Conference will take place from 23 to 27 June 2014 in Maputo, Mozambique.

According to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, 59 states and four other areas were confirmed to be mine-affected in October 2013, with a further eight states have either suspected or residual mine contamination.  In 2012, there were 3,628 recorded casualties from landmines and other explosive remnants of war.  However, many more incidents go unrecorded; the stark reality is that the casualty figure is undoubtedly much higher.

Join AOAV and ICBL and take up the Completion Challenge.  Visit the ICBL website at http://www.icbl.org/index.php//Treaty/MBT/Annual-Meetings/Third-Review-Conference-of-the-Mine-Ban-Treaty