Every day, 13 people are killed or injured by landmines and explosive remnants of war. Half of all civilian casualties are children.

Today, the world continues to witness the devastating loss of civilian life in ongoing conflicts around the world, that often include the use of landmines and other explosive weapons. These deadly devices not only force communities to flee in search of safety, but prevent them from returning home, rendering the situation dire for all those displaced and affected.

As the fighting grinds on in active conflicts, we must not lose sight of the urgent help that is also needed in countries such as Angola, Laos and Vietnam where conflicts have long ceased but millions still endure the deadly legacy. 

Decades on, landmines and explosive remnants of war continue to trap people in poverty, jeopardise efforts to improve food security, health, and education, and thwart opportunities to restore livelihoods.

When cities, towns, and villages are made safe, however, and landmines are cleared from wells, rivers and farmland, and removed from roads granting safer access to schools, hospitals and clinics, communities can thrive once again, and families can live free from fear.

Although the world’s attention often shifts towards new crises, great progress has been made in mine action around the world in recent years. Millions of square metres of safe land have been returned to thousands of communities for productive use and countries like Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe are within reach of becoming landmine-free within the decade. 

This year, MAG and the international mine action community will come together in Siem Reap, Cambodia, for the 5th Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty – the historic treaty that banned landmines more than 25 years ago. This will be an opportunity to assess the progress so far and set an ambitious action plan for the next five years. It is a moment for states to recommit to end the scourge of landmines once and for all.

As we look toward this important milestone, today, on International Mine Awareness Day, we acknowledge and celebrate the huge strides that have been made, and reaffirm our steadfast commitment to advocating for the needs of those affected and saving more lives.

Paving way for new kindergartens in Vietnam

Xuan Hoa is a commune in the Minh Hoa district, a mountainous region in Quang Binh. This commune was heavily bombed during the war because it served as a storage location for Vietnam soldiers' weapons. Cluster bombs and other ordnance were left behind in the area long after the war ended.

In the heart of the commune is a kindergarten that serves 195 families. A house with two bedrooms served as the school building, but it had no toilets and was dilapidated. And because it was located on relatively low land, the entire area flooded when it rained.

In 2010, the Provincial People's Committee approved relocating the kindergarten to a larger and higher location. However, the area chosen for construction was one where locals believed bombs were hidden underground.

“While I was a child, I herded buffaloes in this area and saw many bombs on the ground. Once, when my father was digging the land here to plant cassava, two fist-sized bombs appeared," recalled Chi, father of a 3-year-old attending kindergarten at the time.

“When I knew the school was going to be built on the land, I worried about the children since they were very curious and didn’t know about bombs. If they accidentally uncover bombs, they will likely think they are just toys,” Chi continued.

MAG was asked to assist the school with the clearance process in preparation for construction. Across 15 days, MAG cleared nearly 3,400 square metres of land and found and safely destroyed seven unexploded bombs.

After the new facility was completed, 50 children were enrolled in the kindergarten. It welcomed 98% of pre-schoolers in the commune at that time, more than doubling from the previous year. 

Tien, a kindergarten teacher, said: “With the new school, we can grow fresh vegetables for students’ lunches, and we don’t have to worry about flooding every time the rainy season comes.”

While the COVID-19 epidemic raged in 2021, the Xuan Hoa kindergarten served as a quarantine area where the local community received medical treatment. During times of need, the school is also a reliable resource for the community.

The land where bombs and bullets once fell has become a school that offers education to the next generation in Xuan Hoa. Education is essential for protecting children and eradicating poverty - it is also a key tool for human development. 

Transforming farmland in Laos

Khagnou village is in the east of Khammouane province, near to the Vietnam border. It is home to 914 people in an idyllic location surrounded by bright green paddy fields. However, the village has a deadly history. During the Vietnam war, according to US Bombing Data, an astounding 3,558 bombing missions were conducted just on this small rural village. This included 1,692 general purposes bombs ranging from 250lb to 3,000lb bombs and 328 cluster bomb units each containing hundreds of cluster submunitions.

The people in this village have lived with this contamination and the life-threatening risk it poses to their daily life for nearly 50 years. MAG has been clearing land in this village since 2008. Teams have cleared a total of 1,500,346 square metres and destroyed 1,309 unexploded bombs. MAG’s roving teams have also destroyed 2,649 unexploded bombs reported by the community.

Mr. Toun has been the village chief of Khagnou village since 2017. 

“Today, my village has 196 households. My role involves listening to and resolving the problems for people in the village and communicating government announcements. Moreover, I am the focal point for reporting about bombs here. Before I would get about one or two reports of bombs found by people in the village every week. But now most people here have a mobile phone so if they find a bomb, they can call MAG directly. 

“I found a bomb a few years ago only metres from my house when I was extending my small herb garden. It was a cluster submunition that I found when digging to put up a new fence around the area. I reported it to MAG, and they came to safely destroy it.

“MAG has now cleared many areas in our village, including many paddy field areas. After clearance in one area in 2019, the government-built irrigation channels for us, which allows us to plant rice two times a year. We were able to expand the paddy fields following clearance from nine hectares to 13 hectares. In 2020, the village worked together to extend the irrigation by another 500 metres and the water can now reach an additional two hectares of cleared rice fields. This year the government came to our village to survey the area to extend the irrigation further and we hope new irrigation will be built soon, then all rice fields will be green all year round.

“Besides farmland, MAG also cleared the area for a new health centre for our and neighbouring villages. After clearance, the Government of Luxembourg supported the funding to build a health centre. It is now used for our village and seven others villages. Before this health centre, people would have to travel nearly one hour to the hospital,” Mr. Toun explained.

Mr. Bouala, 62, has two hectares of farmland in the village, which were cleared by MAG in 2019. The team found and safely destroyed 27 unexploded bombs on Mr Bouala’s land.

“When the war began, I was 6 years old," he said. "The day our village was first bombed, my mum was working in our rice fields, and I was playing in the village. When my mum saw planes fly towards us, she hurried to find me, and we all ran to the nearby caves. We lived in the caves for 10 years. 

"My first memory when we arrived back in the village after the war was that our house had been destroyed. I just remember seeing ashes and big craters everywhere. But the danger was the unexploded bombs. I found a bomb on my land when I was digging the ground to make my garden fence. Luckily, I spotted it, or I could have been killed if I’d struck it with the shovel.”

Creating safer access to food and water in Zimbabwe

The community of Charambadeya – just like other villages along the Zimbabwe Mozambique border – suffer from the presence of landmines and other explosive ordnance left over from the war between the Rhodesian forces and freedom fighters, which finally ended in 1980. 

The presence of minefields have blocked access to water and productive lands for decades. Due to harsh climate conditions and economic challenges in the district, however, community members were forced to risk their lives and open vegetable gardens in and around the minefields for food and income.

In recent years, MAG has been clearing the contamination and delivering Explosive Ordnance Risk Education in the district. Funded by the Dutch Government, the clearance work and EORE sessions have improved livelihoods and human safety and reduced the number of accidents involving both community members and their livestock.

Speaking about MAG’s clearance work, one of the villagers said: “I am very happy about MAG’s work: I expect more land to expand my vegetable garden because vegetable production is my source of income. I am also happy we have a safe access road to the vegetable gardens and water source. More and more people are coming to buy vegetables because they are now feeling safe to reach our gardens.”

Focusing on the safety of her children, another villager continued: “We aren’t afraid and don’t worry about explosive ordnance in this area anymore. Our foot paths and roads to the gardens and the river are now safe. Our children can safely walk to them, it is not like before where you needed to escort them. We are seeing positive changes.”

Harnessing economic opportunities in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is on track to becoming a mine-free country by 2027. As MAG’s operations will eventually draw to a close, our staff transition activities focus on empowering staff towards other livelihoods. On-demand courses are designed to enhance skills, performance, and understanding so staff can take up other job opportunities when demining work in Sri Lanka comes to a conclusive end. 

MAG also focuses on women empowerment programmes since we employ a considerable number of female staff. In many cases in the North and East of Sri Lanka, women are the breadwinners of the family. They bear the complete burden of educating their children and looking after their elderly parents while earning the income to support the family.

Meet Lakshmi, a Deputy Team Leader at MAG and mother of five daughters. Like so many others, Lakshmi’s family also underwent many challenges during the civil war and was displaced many times within the northern province. As war escalated, they had to move to an IDP camp in 2010.

Unfortunately, during war, Lakshmi’s husband was injured by a shell fragment and lost his eye. As a result, the total responsibility of the family fell on Lakshmi’s shoulders.

In 2020, she joined MAG as a female deminer. She recognised the importance of gaining a comprehensive understanding of landmines, especially when neighbours from the same village were worried about encountering landmines in their fields while farming. 

By becoming a deminer, Lakshmi could ensure the safety of all, and she feels proud to work with MAG to achieve a mine-free Sri Lanka. 

“In the beginning, my children and husband did not like me working in a demining organisation, because no one can predict when accidents will happen. 

“But to succeed in my goals, I decided to face these challenges without fear. I am now encouraging my neighbours to come and work with MAG and support this national cause.”

As part of MAG’s staff transition activities, Lakshmi was selected to take part in the mobility support activity, which is funded by the US Department of State. The goal is to train staff to drive vehicles and obtain light vehicle licenses. This support enables people to access a wide range of alternative economic opportunities from 2027 onwards.

Restoring livelihoods in Iraq

Sharaeh, situated in Sinjar district, is a community predominantly inhabited by Muslim Turkmen families. Their livelihood depends on farming and raising livestock. Prior to 2014, the village was home to approximately 166 families, each contributing to its vibrant tapestry of communal life.

The Turkmen are a minority ethnic group in Iraq, primarily concentrated in Tal Afar, Tuz Khurmatu and Kirkuk, with a notable presence in Baghdad and various other areas. Their roots can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire, which formerly governed Iraq, and they primarily speak Turkmani. Most Turkmen adhere to the Islamic faith, with the community divided into Shia Turkmen and Sunni Turkmen.

In 2014, ISIS took over Sharaeh, destroying its peace. Villagers had to leave their homes to escape the terror. Many families were forced to flee to Mosul and some of them fled to Syria, joining the millions of Iraqis who were forced to leave their homes in northern Iraq. Families were separated, homes destroyed, and many people killed or kidnapped by ISIS’s merciless violence. 

Shia Turkmen villages, especially, were targeted by ISIS and almost all Shia Turkmen families were expelled from their villages. Their places of worship were looted and destroyed, and many of them were kidnapped. These actions, condemned as war crimes by the international community, led the Iraqi parliament to vote and to recognize ISIS persecution of Iraqi Turkmens as a genocide.

Ghalib Haider, a 69-year-old farmer from Shareah, said: “After ISIS reached our village, I went to the Ba’aj district with my family.

“We stayed there for six months before moving to Um- Al Jarabe’a then Hammam A’lil IDP camps. Our situation was very difficult as we lacked the essential life needs, and we were always waiting for assistance. What bothered me the most was that my children couldn’t continue their education because of the war.

“I had been eagerly anticipating returning home, but upon visiting Sharaeh in 2019, I found none of my belongings. The house itself was destroyed, crushing my dreams and hopes of returning.

“Unfortunately, in 2020, I discovered that my land and many other villagers’ lands were contaminated when an incident occurred. It truly broke my heart when I learned about the unexpected death of one of the farmers from Sharaeh, who owned a plot adjacent to mine. His dream of cultivating his land to improve his financial situation was abruptly cut short by an IED explosion. This filled me with fear, and I couldn’t cultivate my fields. Instead of returning to Shareah, I settled in a rented house in Telafar district – 15 minutes away. My son took on work as a labourer to support our family because we didn’t have any source of income as we were not living in an IDP camp anymore where humanitarian aid is provided.”

MAG began clearance operations in Sharaeh village, including on Ghalib’s land, in November 2022. Meanwhile, MAG community liaison teams conducted Explosive Ordnance Risk Education sessions with Ghalib and some returnees in the village.

Hulya Murad, a member of the MAG demining team who worked in Sharaeh village, said: “Every door and wall in the village carries the story of pain and sacrifice that the village went through.

"I initially inspected the ground with my eyes only. Often, bullets or UXOs were clearly visible. Then we used our detectors to find hidden and buried items. Upon discovering a dangerous item, we marked the area, then safely removed it. Sharaeh outskirts including Ghalib’s agricultural land was heavily laden with rockets due to it being a conflict zone for several years.”

After MAG completed the clearance work, Ghalib said: “With the efforts of my brothers and sisters at MAG, I have managed to plant wheat on my entire land. Despite all our struggles, sacrifices, and losses due to this conflict, I am walking on air.

“I eagerly await the month of May to harvest it. When I sell the wheat, I’ll finally be able to either rebuild my house or build a new one and move back to my village. In addition, as the residents of Sharaeh village, we have agreed to rebuild the destroyed village school with our own funds. This is to ensure that our children can continue their education and compensate for the years they missed because of the conflict.”

With the generous support from Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, MAG’s manual clearance teams have returned 149,021 square meters of safe land back to the community. What’s more, the team safely removed 27 small arms ammunition and 31 unexploded items from Ghabil’s land.