The recent death of a French de-miner in northern Sri Lanka highlights the ongoing threat of landmines in preventing the safe return of tens of thousands of conflict-displaced.
Dominique Morin, who worked for the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action, was killed on 10 May when a device he was handling exploded in the village of Kakkayankulam West, in eastern Mannar District.
“The risk is still there. We need to do more,” Nigel Robinson, country programme manager for the NGO told IRIN on 28 May in Colombo.
But for many of the eight NGOs on the ground, as well as the Sri Lankan army, the future is uncertain, with funds for this year drying up.
"The de-mining operators have expanded their capacity enormously in the north,” said Douglas Keh, country director for the UN Development Programme (UNDP), which is coordinating work between de-mining agencies and the government.
“Unfortunately, at the moment most operators have funding secured only until July/August. It is very important that we have continued donor support for mine clearance work, so the clearance of residential and livelihood areas will be able to continue at its current pace."
At least US$9 million is needed to continue operations through this year alone, with estimates suggesting it could take as long as 20 years to clear all known contaminated areas.
According to Major General Udaya Nanayakkara, who heads the Engineering Corps of the Sri Lanka Army involved in the de-mining, between the end of the war in May 2009 and April 2010 at least 1,000 sqkm of land had been surveyed or cleared of mines and other devices.
Recently he told the press that de-mining efforts would likely slow as de-miners moved into areas where fighting from the decades-long conflict between government forces and the now defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was more intense.
Although most residential areas and the roads in the Vanni - an area including Kilinochchi, Mullaithivu, Jaffna, Mannar and Vavuniya districts - have been de-mined, as civilian activity increases, the risk of injury from mines and other devices remains in those areas not yet cleared.
In January, a 10-year-old boy was injured while collecting wood to build a fence in Kilinochchi District, while two children were killed in Colombuthurai in Jaffna District when a device exploded.
Barrier to return
The presence of landmines continues to prove a major deterrent for the safe return of thousands of displaced wishing to go home.
“The continuation of the de-mining work in the north is vital as people are moving back to their home villages, and need to be able to resume their livelihoods and normal lives,” UNDP’s Keh said. “Livelihood areas such as paddy fields or land used to collect firewood need to be cleared as soon as possible."
Although more than 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned to their villages or are living with host families, more than 70,000 remain in government camps outside the town of Vavuniya, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports.
According to the mine action database maintained by UNDP’s district mine action offices, as of 1 May 2010, approximately 482 sqkm of the Vanni remain contaminated by landmines and other unexploded devices.
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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