Protecting civilians against mines and other explosive ordnance in Ukraine: Geneva’s role
The recent liberation of Kherson came as a stark reminder of the danger posed by landmines, cluster munitions, and other explosive ordnance (EO) littered across Ukraine.
By Stefano Toscano*
The recent liberation of Kherson came as a stark reminder of the danger posed by landmines, cluster munitions, and other explosive ordnance (EO) littered across Ukraine. The current hostilities add to legacy contamination dating back to Soviet-era firing ranges and the two World Wars. Currently, an estimated 14.6 million people are at risk, and urgent action is required to prevent accidents and save lives.
To date, Ukrainian authorities report that they have already located, recorded, and removed over 256,000 mines and explosive devices, as well as surveying 73,000 hectares of land. Ukraine’s Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA), developed by the GICHD, is receiving new information daily on explosive ordnance identified, areas surveyed, and ongoing risk education activities.
Though humanitarian demining efforts are already taking place, the scope of work that can be done is limited. Humanitarian action, however, can and must be undertaken to protect civilians. Two areas of activity are particularly critical in this respect: First, the timely collection, management, and sharing of information on contaminated areas, to guide emergency humanitarian demining and lay the ground for speedy clearance activities once the conflict ceases. Second, risk education for civilians a life-saving activity in emergency contexts, especially where large population movements increase exposure and vulnerability to explosive threats.
Bridging national needs and international support for responsive mine action in Ukraine
Behind the increase in mine action activities in Ukraine has been an increase in funding over several months. Coordination between the Ukrainian national authorities, funders, international organizations, and mine action NGOs and operators is more important than ever to address quickly evolving needs.
Urgently mapping risks for targeted action that saves lives
Drawing on a decade of GICHD support to Ukraine, I can attest to the power of working hand-in-hand with the national authorities and local and international partners to ensure that the required institutional set-up, solid mine action programs, and the necessary funding provide the basis for safe, speedy and cost-efficient operations tailored to local needs.
Social media can help demining efforts
A concrete example is the Mine Action Information Management cell, which acts as a hub, gathering data from a variety of national and international sources, including social media. This data is shared across key partners, from national authorities and UN agencies to mine action operators working on the ground. Access to up-to-date data helps authorities prioritize and target resources to pressing humanitarian demining needs, making further life-saving possible.
This level of collaboration is built on solid foundations between the Ukrainian government and the local and international mine action community. It is a key tenet of mine action that national authorities must take charge of their own programs. The GICHD continues to support increased mine action capacity in Ukraine by providing advice and training for national authorities and operators in the country, based on identified needs. It’s clear that the training programs are in high demand, with the majority of participants traveling from other areas of the country, despite challenging circumstances. We are humbled by this dedication.
Reaching civilians at risk
With the ongoing fighting, explosive ordnance contamination in Ukraine continues to increase, posing a threat to civilians’ lives and livelihoods. Educating the local population is critical to ensure that men, women, and children receive information that corresponds to their specific needs, thereby promoting safer behaviors and reducing the risk of injury or death.
In Ukraine, the GICHD supports a UN-led working group bringing together actors around the country to coordinate efforts and enhance the quality and impact of the risk education activities being delivered.
“The imperative for all actors to uphold the norm, enshrined in the Convention, against antipersonnel mines—in Ukraine and in every country and territory around the world—must be stressed.”
A treaty that saved lives and remains indispensable
In 1997, a landmark treaty banning antipersonnel mines was adopted and is now in force in 164 States. During the last 25 years, the treaty has saved innumerable lives. More than 50 million antipersonnel mines have been destroyed, more than 30 States are now mine-free, and the international norm against these weapons is well established.
Still, as we mark the 25th anniversary of the Mine Ban Treaty, the contamination in Ukraine—as well as in over 60 other countries—serves as an urgent call for renewed commitment, intensified collaboration, and investment that promotes long-term solutions in mine action. The antipersonnel mine ban treaty is—regrettably—more relevant than ever. While new use of antipersonnel mines became rare over the last two decades, it did not disappear, as we have witnessed in Ukraine and other recent and current armed conflicts. The imperative for all actors to uphold the norm, enshrined in the Convention, against antipersonnel mines—in Ukraine and in every country and territory around the world—must be stressed.
The lives, safety, and livelihoods of the 60 million women, men, and children living in areas affected by mines and explosive ordnance depend on it.
*Ambassador Stefano Toscano is Director of the GICHD