Since 1989, about 40,850 Afghan civilians were recorded to have been killed or injured by landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), the latter of which consist of munitions which failed to detonate when fired. Anti-personnel mines of an improvised nature (APM/IN) and ERW from more recent armed clashes caused 98.8 percent of the casualties recorded in 2020. In the same year, more than 72 percent of the ERW casualties were children.
Humanitarian mine action partners in Afghanistan have cleared more than 18.9 million items of ERW, some 750,518 Anti-personnel (AP) mines, and some 32,401 Anti-vehicle (AV) mines since 1989. Newer contamination, such as APM/IN and ERW from recent fighting, poses a challenge to the national mine action programme as traditional humanitarian mine action advocacy, risk education and clearance approaches originally developed to deal with legacy landmine and ERW contamination from the Soviet-Afghan War (1980-1988) and the subsequent civil war period are less effective when facing the APM/IN threat which first emerged in 2010.
About 81.3 percent of the known minefields and battle areas - a total of 33,020 hazardous areas - have been cleared or otherwise cancelled since 1989. This represents over 3,282 square kilometers of land released for productive use to 3,179 communities. Explosive Ordnance Risk Education (EORE) was delivered to over 8.4 million individuals since the start of the program which includes both the first time EORE receivers and those who participated in a refresher course. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNMAS Afghanistan integrated messages on COVID-19 preventative measures into its EORE sessions. Since January 2021, UNMAS Afghanistan has reached more than 111,819 people with these messages.
Some 3,939 identified hazards remain, threatening about 1,529 communities, impeding development by delaying the construction of new road networks, airports, transmission lines, and returnee settlement. Due to evolving conflict dynamics, Afghanistan’s humanitarian mine action needs are now as great as they have ever been.
The Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan (MAPA) was established in 1989. In 2012, the Afghan Directorate for Mine Action Coordination (DMAC) began to execute aspects of the programme management of the MAPA in direct collaboration with UNMAS.
As of 1 June 2018, the DMAC absorbed all Afghan technical mine action personnel previously employed by UNMAS. The Afghan Government has asked UNMAS for continued technical support beyond 2018, in areas such as strategic planning and advocacy, resource mobilization, and funds management and contracting.
Since the de facto Government assumed control on 15 August 2021, such arrangement has been disrupted and the MAPA coordination has been affected. At the request of MAPA stakeholders and approval of the United Nations senior leadership in Afghanistan, UNMAS stepped in to bridge the coordination gap and established the United Nations Emergency Mine Action Coordination Center for Afghanistan (UN-EMACCA) — an emergency, temporary, and independent body from the de facto Government, in September 2021.
Progress towards Mine Ban Treaty 2023 commitments:
UNMAS assisted the Government of Afghanistan to successfully request a ten-year extension to complete its clearance obligations under the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) in 2012. A detailed work plan to achieve mine-free status by 2023 was developed, and MAPA partners continue to make progress towards this end. From January 2020 to September 2021, UNMAS-contracted teams cleared more than 19.7 square kilometers of explosive hazard contaminated land, destroying 263 AP mines, 95 AT mines and 1,681 ERW.
Access Negotiation Capacity Building and Support:
Access negotiation in adherence to humanitarian principles is fundamental to the successful implementation of humanitarian mine action (HMA) projects, as it helps to obtain safe and unconditional access to project areas. UNMAS supports its partners and the wider MAPA in access negotiations by providing technical training to partner personnel, as well as direct support in such engagements. In addition, UNMAS deployed trained access negotiation specialists to five national MAPA implementing partners. These experts advise the NGOs’ senior management, project teams and community liaison officers and work with them directly on engaging with local actors under the United Nations guidelines.
Establishment of the UN-EMACCA:
In September 2021, the United Nations Emergency Mine Action Coordination Center for Afghanistan (UN-EMACCA) was established to serve as an emergency, temporary, and independent coordination body from the de facto Government for the Mine Action Program of Afghanistan. Prior to 15 August 2021, the MAPA was managed and coordinated by the DMAC; due to recent governmental changes in the country, the DMAC’s functions have been affected. The UN-EMACCA will carry on the mine action coordination functions that were previously managed by the DMAC, independently from the DMAC and the de facto Government, so that the MAPA remains safe, effective, and efficient to answer increased requests for mine action assistance that address the acute humanitarian needs.
Women in Mine Action:
For the first time in the 30-year history of humanitarian mine action in Afghanistan, after required training, on 1 June 2018 women began landmine clearance operations. They released 51,520 square meters of mine/ERW affected land back to their community in Bamyan province. Many of them continued to work as deminers, and contributed to clearing the last known minefield in Bamyan in 2019. The deminers are an inspiration for women around the world and were voted second in the Arms Control Association’s Arms Control Person(s) of the Year 2019 award.
To increase the participation of women in different areas of mine action of Afghanistan, UNMAS is supporting national implementing partners to have a specialized gender focal point in their teams. The gender focal points of the local organizations work to ensure women’s opinion and presence during different stages of mine action projects such as planning, implementation and monitoring through incorporating gender-inclusive approaches.
An Evaluation of the Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan
Increased financing is critical to realizing Afghanistan’s plan to be anti-personnel mine-free by 2023, in line with the country’s obligations under the Ottawa Treaty. Unfortunately, funding has dropped to 29 per cent of what it was in 2011 which has contributed to Afghanistan falling behind on its Ottawa Treaty 2023 commitments. To meet international obligations and address new threats to civilians as a result of more recent armed clashes, Afghanistan has requested US $174.6 million for clearance activities this year, out of a total budget request of $183.2 million for all pillars of mine action in Afghanistan - of which, about 83 per cent remains unfunded.
UNMAS thanks the following donors for their generous support through the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund (VTF) for Assistance in Mine Action this Afghan year 1400 (April 2021 - March 2022): The United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), Japan, Australia, Denmark, Netherlands, and South Korea. UNMAS also thanks the following donors for continued bilateral support to the MAPA: The United States of America, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), Japan, Finland, Denmark, Norway, New Zealand, Afghanistan, PATRIP, Ireland, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and Slovenia.
Data as of September 2021