A new study has called for greater cooperation between de-mining teams and the mine-affected communities they are supposed to serve. It notes that de-mining, usually seen as a purely technical task, also affects the social and economic well-being of the community.
"Communities affected by landmines have more trust in operations where the level of communication, coordination and cooperation between de-miners and villagers is high," said the study published by the South African Institute of International Affairs titled "Mine Action in Southern Africa: Instrument of Development."
"In some cases, de-mining agencies make little effort to liaise with, and relate to, the community, even though their staff may remain in an area for long periods. It is important that de-mining staff keep the villagers informed of their activities, instead of establishing themselves as an island within the community," the report said.
One successful approach had been to start each operation with a community meeting, where the de-mining personnel's activities were explained and the community identified which area they wanted to have cleared first.
One mine expert found that some communities mistakenly thought the presence of survey teams meant de-mining had already taken place, which led to accidents. This also led to a reduction in the level of trust.
The report noted that it was not enough to use the local leadership structure to pass on information about de-mining activities - in politically divided communities some people would believe the official structures, and others the opposition. Operators needed to establish whether the official structures were the only source of information for the community.
Studies have also shown that it is important for humanitarian organisations to know how the communities cope with the landmines.
Some communities may safely avoid mined areas by using other land instead. But this often led to increased hardship, like walking longer distances to farms, which affected production or other income-generating activities.
"The successful removal and destruction of landmines is no longer recognised as the sole goal of de-mining. Rather, it is now recognised that de-mining must also ensure that communities affected by landmines benefit from the de-mining operation in terms of greater community development and an improved quality of life," the report said.
This called for information gathering at the community level before and during operations, and recognising the individuality of each community.
Operators should also consider whether, and how, their work might damage communities, for instance, by placing a strain on the local water supply. Rather than keeping them at arms length, de-miners should investigate ways in which the community could become involved in the operation, like assisting with road repairs or clearing the bush for a de-mining camp.
The report said Africa was widely acknowledged as the most mine-affected continent in the world, with two of the most severely mine-affected countries being Angola and Mozambique.
All 14 Southern African Development Community countries have signed the Ottawa Convention banning landmines, and eight countries had already met their obligation to destroy their stockpiles. However, countries like Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Malawi lacked funding to continue with their programmes.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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