Afghanistan: Mine Action in Afghanistan – Looking for Hope

20 Years Supporting Landmine Victims

Over 20 years have passed since AAR Japan first began our mine clearance activities in Afghanistan, using the net proceeds from the Anti-Personnel Landmine Removal Campaign picture book “Not Mines, But Flowers”, (illustration by Shomei YOU, story by Fusako YANASE, 610,000 copies published by Jiyukokuminsha). It has been 18 years since we established an office in the capital city of Kabul, in January of 2002. During this time, of the many humanitarian aid needs in Afghanistan, AAR Japan has continued its mine clearance, victim assistance, and mine risk education activities. The reason for this is simple: so long as there are land mines, people will not be able to live their lives in peace.
Mine action taken by the international community, including AAR Japan, have played a large role in reducing the number the victims of landmines or unexploded ordinance (UXO). When one looks back at the “Landmine Monitor”, an annual report published by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), of which AAR Japan is a member, the number of casualties steadily decreases up to a certain point in time.

Since its publication in 1996, sales from AAR Japan’s Anti-Personnel Landmine Removal Campaign picture book “Not Mines, But Flowers” have been used to confirm the safety of 2,652 square meters of minefields.

According to the “Landmine Monitor”, in Afghanistan in 1973, approximately 20-40 people a day were killed or injured by mines or UXOs. This amounts to 7,300 – 14,600 people in a year. Since ICBL started to collect data in 2000, the impact of mine action, such as clearance activities and risk education, has slowly started to become apparent. In 2006, the total casualties for the year had been reduced to 796. While there were some years that were exceptions, the number of victims steadily shifted every year by the hundreds, up until 2011. Of course, this does not change that the number of victims is still large – behind every statistic lies a large amount of pain, sadness, and grief in individual victims.

Behind every number is the story of an individual’s sorrow.  Nader Shah, who works in accounting in AAR Japan’s Kabul office, lost both of his arms and his right eye in a UXO accident near his home when he was 9 years old.
The Reason for the Rise in Casualties
But the number of casualties, which was trending downwards, increased in 2012. According to the latest “Landmine Monitor”, released in November 2018, 2,300 people were reportedly killed or injured in Afghanistan in 2017. Unfortunately, it has to be said that the number of causalities has returned to previous levels. The biggest reason for the increase in casualties are IEDs (Improved Explosive Devices). As the name indicates, the making of these can be improvised, so many are being used.
Improvised Explosive Device (IED). There are bombs set-up within these yellow plastic tanks. (Pictured provided by The HALO TRUST)

In 2017, United Nations Security Council Resolution 2365 was unanimously adopted. It states:
The Security Council…Calls on all parties to armed conflicts to end immediately and definitively any indiscriminate use of explosive devices in violation of international humanitarian law; [and] Urges parties to armed conflicts to protect civilian populations, including children, from the threats posed by landmines, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices and, in this regard, encourages the international community to advocate and support efforts to clear these devices, to provide risk education, and to conduct risk reduction activities, as well as to provide assistance for the care, rehabilitation and economic and social reintegration of victims and persons with disabilities.

Even though this was the case, according to the British International NGO, Action on Armed Violence, the harsh reality is that in the first half of 2018 (January 2018 through June 2018), 2002 civilians in Afghanistan had become victims to explosives. It is reported that 80% of those were from IEDs.

Striving for Zero Landmines

Even now, AAR Japan is continuing activities to help people protect oneself from landmines and UXOs in Afghanistan, including through the use of national radio broadcasts. Since beginning our activities in 2002, 140 volunteer instructors embedded in the region have visited various villages and provided mine risk education to over 900,000 people. However, reducing casualties is no easy feat, and one can struggle to be optimistic.
When that is the case, I look back at Cambodia. Similar to Afghanistan, Cambodia experienced war and there were many victims of landmines and UXOs. With help from the international community, however, Cambodia has been able to drastically reduce the number of victims. Cambodia serves as a symbol of hope for those involved in mine action in Afghanistan.
In 2002, AAR Japan started educating people on how to protect themselves from landmines and UXOs. Since then, over 900,000 people have been trained.
According to “Landmine Monitor 2018”, the number of mine/UXO victims in Cambodia was 1,249 in 1998, but with the mine action work conducted by the government and international aid organizations, that number decreased year-over-year. In 2017, the number of victims had decreased to 58. Cambodia is the country where AAR Japan first began using the profits from “Not Mines, But Flowers” for mine clearance. It is also where we conducted clearing activities with profits from “ZERO LANDMINE”, a CD produced as part of Tokyo Broadcasting System’s (TBS) 50th Anniversary “ZERO Landmine” Campaign spearheaded by composer, Mr. Ryuichi SAKAMOTO, and with public donations from the campaign.
There has also be a similar decrease in Mozambique. There, the number of casualties entered the single digits in 2014, and in 2018, had decreased to seven.
The CD “Zero Landmine” that was produced as part of TBS 50th Anniversary “ZERO Landmine” Campaign.

Landmine Monitor 2018 

Since the fighting in Afghanistan is ongoing, it will likely not yet go like Cambodia or Mozambique where the conflicts have ended. It may take significantly more time and aid to have Afghanistan replicate the process of Cambodia, or even better, Mozambique. That being said, there are things that cannot be resolved without continuing to move forward. AAR Japan will continue to work on mine action in Afghanistan.
Mine clearing work at Afghanistan is on-going even today.
Seiji KONNO, Tokyo Office

For ten months, starting in April 2000, he was on assignment with the mine clearance NGO “HALO Trust”, engaged in UXO/mine clearance work. Afterwards, he oversaw mine action, public awareness training, and emergency aid at AAR Japan until March of 2008. After leaving AAR Japan, became a certified Social Worker and certified Psychiatric Social Worker. After working at an international NGO overseas focused on support for those with disabilities, domestic social welfare, and support for children, he returned to AAR Japan in February 2018. He is from Ibaraki Prefecture.
 (Profile as of the date of the article.)