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Sri Lanka working towards being free from threat of land mines

Aug 18, 2010 12:37:56 PM- transcurrents.com

By Vidya Abhayagunawardena

A Technical Working Group (TWG) on Mine Risk Education (MRE), Victim Assistance and Advocacy, was held on 10th and 11th of August in Ampara with the participation of the Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Services, Sri Lanka Army Humanitarian De-Mining Unit (HDU), Social Departments of North and East Provincial Councils, partner NGOs and with the facilitation from the UNICEF.

At this two days workshop participants came up with ways and means of new strategies to educate people in mine safe behavior, how best to ensure support for victims of land mines and other indiscriminate explosive devices, and how to strengthen advocacy for mine action.

The ongoing mine action program in Sri Lanka is very much impressive compared to other countries in the world today. Since 2002 the Government of Sri Lanka and the international community have under taken a large scale mine action program in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Efforts focused on demining a difficult and a costly task as well as on MRE to prevent injury and death. Survey and clearance to release land as well as MRE are pre-requisite for safe re-settlement and development in the North and East. Three decades of war in Sri Lanka have left hundreds of square kilometers affected by explosive remnants of war and land mines.

Government of Sri Lanka in a recent Cabinet decision has approved the set up of a Sri Lanka - National Mine Action Centre (SLNMAC) under the Ministry of Economic Development (MED) as a new stepping stone towards a mine free Sri Lanka. This will enhance and encourage concerned parties to link with the de mining program in an efficient and effective way. MED act as the coordinating body under the direction of Presidential Task Force (PTF).

SLNMAC plans to prepare a National Victim Assistance Strategy in the coming months with the support of UNICEF. Victim assistance calls for ensuring that existing health care and social service systems, rehabilitation programs and legislative and policy frameworks are adequate to meet the needs of all citizens – including land mine survivors and family members of decease victims.

As Mr. Montey Ranathunge, National Director of SLNMAC revealed at the TWG, SLNMAC’s vision is a “Sri Lanka free from the threat of land mines and Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) where individuals and communities live in a safe environment and the needs of land mine and ERW victims are met”. To achieve this SLNMAC’s mission is “To develop and implement a sustainable national mine action program able to plan, coordinate, implement and monitor all aspect of mine action of Sri Lanka and mobilize the required resources to make Sri Lanka free from the threat of landmines/ ERW through education, threat prevention and elimination in accordance with SLNMAC”.

Currently there are nine organizations working in de-mining in the North and East of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Army HDU, The HALO Trust, Danish De-mining Group, Swiss Foundation for Mine Action, Mines Advisory Group, Sarvastra, Horizon, MMIPE and DASH. Sri Lanka Army HDU recently entered into MRE as well. According to the SLNMAC, area cleared up to June 2010 is 1,541, 880,972 square meters and the remaining areas to be surveyed cleared is 2,468, 119,028 square meters.

Taking the annual clearance average since 2002 of 171squre km the required time to clear the remaining area is nearly fifteen years. However by the 2020 it is SNMAC’s aim to have cleared all areas most effected and in need for livelihood and development. The scheduled period with current capacity is ten years and this can be shortened if human resources, physical and financial support can be obtained.

Ministry of Education (MOE) has taken a broader approach in MRE with the support from the UNICEF. All the North and East schools principals, and selected teachers have been trained in MRE. Numerous schools in the most affected areas have wall paintings with MRE pictures and messages and are carrying out various activities such as dramas, art competitions, distributing MRE messages printed in stationary and school carry bags and water bottles.

MOE decided to include MRE in the school curriculum from next year a way to achieve sustainability of MRE in Sri Lanka. Community based MRE undertaken by national NGOs in 2009 reach more than 250,000 people in 61 DS divisions and IDP camps. As of 30th June 2010 the MRE program has already reached 215,000 people in 68 DS divisions. Adults and children showed mine –safe behavior by reporting 264 suspected dangerous objects and hazardous areas in the first half of 2010.

Sri Lanka will need to have long term and sustainable MRE campaign to reach a goal of zero casualties from land mines and ERW. In this regard sustainable social marketing campaign in MRE is very much needed. Apart from the government and MRE partner organizations we may look into other institutions and get their support in this invaluable task. Hindu Kovils, Buddhist Temples, Churches, Mosques, Community Based Organizations (CBOs) can deliver the life saving messages to their community. Religious places and CBOs can become a voluntary “MRE Centers” in their respective villages.

And also the private sector can play a pivotal role using their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs to support Sri Lanka’s Mine Action Program. Sri Lanka Police Department will be trained by the end of August in delivering MRE. Public participation and their support is very much needed at all levels and government and partner organizations alone will not be able to carry out this task. We all want to be able to walk anywhere in Sri Lankan soil in a few years time without any fear from land mines and unexploded or abandoned ordnance.