This week, we spoke with Franz Sáenz Kohls, Country Director for MAG Ecuador.
First off, can you summarise our activities in Ecuador?
MAG works in several key areas within the Weapons and Ammunition Management (WAM) sphere. This is a strand of work that has developed over recent years within MAG, in addition to our more established mine action and explosive ordnance risk education activities around the world. The aim of this work is to mitigate possible safety and security threats caused by firearms, unplanned explosions at weapons storage facilities, and the spread of illicit weapons. We also provide training to staff within the military and police, to share best practices around the storing and management of arms.
Additionally, MAG rehabilitates weapons storage facilities and explosive storehouses to increase levels of safety and security. This also addresses the risk of excessive storage, either in terms of quantities or inappropriate categories of hazardous items being held together.
Last but not least, MAG provides technical assistance to the national authorities in Ecuador, and supports their operations to safely dispose of obsolete or surplus weapons and munitions.
What impact does this work have on local people and the community?
By making sure weapons are housed safely, and obsolete items are destroyed, the work that MAG does in Ecuador saves lives. People living close to munition storehouses can live in greater safety thanks to the work we do to prevent unplanned explosions. These accidents can have a devastating effect on civilians, destroy public infrastructure such as schools, roads and hospitals, and endanger local wildlife, so preventing them is vital to community safety and wellbeing.
The illicit trade and circulation of arms is a significant problem in Ecuador, and the diversion of state-held weapons, in particular, is a significant source of illegal weapons. The homicide rate has tripled over the last three years, and 60% of cases now involve firearms.
What are the main challenges of this work?
While MAG is a humanitarian organisation, any weapons and ammunition management related cooperation has an impact on defense and security activities in the country. As such, it is important for us to work with tact and care when working with national stakeholders in order to build and maintain trust, especially when dealing with sensitive information. It is iimportant to be recognized as an organization that respects the national sovereignty of any country in which we work.
A priority for us is to develop our activities in collaboration with national partners, and to work in support of existing systems and processes. Proactive communication and reporting on our joint activities are important, so we can prove to be a reliable and trusted partner.
Who are the key partners we work with?
In Ecuador, MAG works with all the relevant agencies and armed forces in charge of state-held weapons and munitions. This includes branches of the military, such as the Joint Armed Forces Command, Weapons Control Unit, Air Force, Navy and Army. We also work with the National Police.
What does the next 5 years look like for MAG Ecuador?
While MAG has made good progress in establishing our weapons and ammunitions management activities in the region, there is still a lot to be done in order to build a safer Ecuador through the work we do. In five years, MAG aims to increase its footprint in the country, ensuring more weapons and munition storehouses have adequate safety and security levels. On top of that, we aim to work more closely with communities on armed violence reduction efforts.
All of this work would not be possible without the support of our donors, such as the United States Department of State, who generously support our work in Ecuador.
Read more about our work in Ecuador here.