Conflict and armed violence are at the heart of some of the world's most devastating problems. They cause poverty, impede development, harm human rights and inflict suffering on the world's most vulnerable people. Crucially, they prevent people from living sustainable, dignified lives and realising their full potential.
The work of the Mines Advisory Group's (MAG) thousands of dedicated staff across the world has never been more important. MAG is a humanitarian, development and peace-building organisation that limits the causes and addresses the consequences – both immediate and long-term – of conflict and armed violence.
MAG's work saves lives, eases suffering, protects human rights and contributes to sustainable peace for the hundreds of millions of people affected. It fosters stable and secure societies and is a key enabler of progress towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
Since being founded in 1989, MAG has worked in over 70 countries around the world, across the Middle East, South East Asia, Africa, Latin America and Caribbean. We are currently active in 33 countries delivering conflict response and recovery projects.
Mine action and food security
The impact of landmines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants on food security is significant. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), conflict is the single biggest driver of hunger in the world. It triggers the displacement of huge numbers of people, cutting them off from their food supplies and livelihoods. The proliferation of armed conflict and insecurity undermines food and nutrition security. In 2020, the WFP estimated that there were some 690 million hungry people in the world.
Communities are impacted not only through the daily threat of death or injury from these deadly, indiscriminate weapons, but through restricted access to basic resources such as food and water, limited use of key infrastructure, and both forced and restricted migration.
What’s more, contamination impedes access to land for agricultural and other activities to produce and procure food, which, in turn, affects people’s food habits. Where contamination prevents access to land and the instalment and use of agricultural technologies, the choice of what people can cultivate, and eventually eat, is limited by the threat or fear of dangerous items.
In Lebanon, for instance, farmers report that the impossibility of building irrigation systems due to landmine contamination limits what they can plant.
Humanitarian mine action has a series of cumulative effects that strengthen local and regional food systems and reinforce community resilience. MAG’s mine clearance activities have not only been addressing the negative impact of contamination, preventing fatalities and serious injuries, but have been creating the conditions to improve food security.
Our mine clearance work creates safe access to land, which allows farmers to cultivate land and generate crops, plants, and animal products. They can produce food that can satisfy local and regional market demands for adequate and affordable food. It also gives employers the confidence to hire seasonal and permanent workers, providing an income that itself directly improves food security, as well as sustaining local economies and enabling them to flourish.
In addition, the removal of the actual and perceived threat from landmines and explosive remnants of war allows implementation of new infrastructure projects and use of technologies to support and stimulate agriculture, such as irrigation systems, which can be essential to cope with complex phenomena, including wide economic crisis and climate change.
It's important to note that landmines and unexploded ordnance laid and dropped during conflict impact food security whether the war is ongoing or ended decades ago.
The bombs stopped falling in Vietnam over 50 years ago, however, in Quang Binh – one of the most contaminated provinces in Vietnam for unexploded bombs – there has been indescribable suffering for people living there for generations. As well as the threat of death and injury, these indiscriminate weapons have impacted food security to this day. MAG started working in this province in 2003. Since then, the team has declared safe more than 44,392,712m² of land, responded to more than 7,000 emergency reports from communities and destroyed over 141,635 explosive items to facilitate agricultural development and construction. Over 233,400 people have directly benefitted from MAG’s work in Quang Binh alone.
Meet the communities
Take a closer look at how the removal and destruction of indiscriminate weapons has transformed the lives of families and communities in Vietnam, Lebanon, South Sudan and Sri Lanka and improved food security as a direct result...
Mr Phuc, Vietnam
Four pairs of hands quickly pick up chive bulbs from the smooth sand. They place the best ones in the right basket. The ones that are not as satisfactory are placed on the left side. This is the result of months of hard work by Mr Phuc, his family and many others. Within the next few weeks, these bulbs will be sold to market with an estimated revenue of 10 million Vietnam Dong (approximately US$430). Chives are one of the most popular and ubiquitous herbs for people living in central Vietnam.
The Hai Thien commune is located in the central province of Quang Tri, one of the most heavily affected regions. Quang Tri suffered severe bombardment during the war within the former demilitarized zone that separated North and South Vietnam. The contamination has blocked safe access to the land, which is desperately needed for agriculture and infrastructure, particularly in the central provinces where up to 80 per cent of people are farmers.
The villagers abandoned land or planted cajuput trees with low yields for firewood as they did not require deep digging. Following MAG’s clearance of nearly 495,000m² in the village in 2019, the commune authorities distributed the land to local farmers for crop cultivation. “There is nothing better than planting chives on this land," said Mr Phuc. "Every year, we plant them during the six months of the rainy season. It has been a lot more profitable.
“Let me calculate for you, 500m² of chives make a profit of approximately 10 million Vietnam Dong. The area here is 250,000m², so our combined income is over five billion a year. In the past, the whole area was used to grow cajuput, and after 16 years of harvesting, we made only 30 million Vietnam Dong,” he explained.
Speaking about the cleared land, Mr Phuc added: “First of all, there are no more bombs, and secondly, there are no more rusted metals. It was impossible to cultivate here due to the saltiness caused by them. Also, we were afraid of hitting these pieces of shrapnel when farming since they could cause infections and tetanus”.
The area has become a chive-producing hub, and this has been a major game-changer for many people. They can now make a living off their land and provide a better future for their families. The success of this venture has inspired other villages to adopt similar agricultural practices. In addition, the new crops have improved the soil quality after four years of planting and cultivating them, according to Mr Do, the Cooperative Head.
Watch a day in the life of MAG team leader and deminer, Le Thi Bich Ngoc, in Quang Tri Province, Vietnam.
Mohamad Atris, Lebanon
Arab El Loauizeh is a village in the south of Lebanon, situated on the Blue Line, which has suffered from contamination since 1967. Locals were deprived from their land due to the contamination and were unable to invest it despite their experience in agriculture. MAG's community liaison team captured Mohamad Atris’s frustration to the situation: “It is very difficult to own vast land which you cannot invest and have to work as a daily worker for others," he said.
Today, investing in agriculture is a necessity in Lebanon as the economic situation keeps worsening and the food insecurity is rising. More than ever, landowners are keen to get their land cleared so that they can directly start their investments and projects. With more than 3,000 Syrian refugee in the village, land released could be a drive for decreasing the existing conflict between Lebanese and Syrian refugees and a way for social cohesion.
MAG clearance teams started on Mohamad Atris’s land in early September 2022 and completed and handed over the land in January 2023. One team was deployed to clear the land and was able to find and destroy 200 anti-personnel mines. As soon as Mohamad’s land was handed over to him, he installed an irrigation system within 24 hours. “Today, instead of mines, you will find some kind of vegetable. I planted cucumber, cabbage and onions on my land. These vegetables are sold in the local market and increased both incomes; mine and the daily workers who are helping me out," said Mr Atris.
Nicholas, South Sudan
Nicolas and his family first fled their village in Ayii, South Sudan in 1995 when civil war tore through their community. They returned briefly in 2008 but were forced to flee again and endured 28 years on and off in refugee camps in Uganda.
"I came back to plant crops and within just a few days I found an unexploded cluster bomb. I told the authorities and MAG was called in. They have been clearing this land – our ancestral land - ever since and the progress has enabled the rest of the family to leave the refugee camps in Uganda and come home.”
Nicholas has now been joined by his sister Santa, 62, and niece Grace, 34, and her nine children. Their crops are emerging from the soil they have tilled and they are rebuilding their houses which were destroyed in the conflict and which also claimed the life of Grace’s husband.
He says: “I am feeling positive and happy now. I am encouraging others from the village to also return as soon as MAG has finished making the fields safe.
We will grow cassava, maize and fava beans. My hope is that will grow enough to be able to sell some produce as well and pay for the children to go to school. We want to rebuild our village and I have plans to set up a co-operative so that the villagers can work together to ensure we are sharing our resources.”
The family is in the process of rebuilding their homes that were destroyed in the conflict.
Nicholas’ sister Santa said: “In the refugee camps the rations have been cut and they are not giving people enough food and we were always hungry. We worried about the children.
It would be impossible to live here and grow crops because of the bombs but we know that when MAG has finally cleared all of the land we will be able to thrive as a family.”
Solaman Raj, Sri Lanka
In 2006, Solaman Raj and his family were displaced from Mannar to Mullaithivu and then to Cheddikulam Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp where they remained until 2010. By the time the family was able to return home, their house had been destroyed. Once rebuilt with the assistance of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Solaman bought land close to the house for himself, his wife and their daughter to farm. One day whilst ploughing, Solaman discovered that the land was contaminated with mines.
Through the Grama Niladhari (a village level administration Representative), MAG was informed about the contamination and began clearance on 5 August 2021. MAG has cleared 20,416m² of land and safely removed and destroyed 21 anti-personal mines, four items of unexploded ordnances and three small arms ammunition items. Solaman now safely cultivates peanuts and paddy on the cleared land.
“As a farmer, my job is to provide food for our country. The paddy land cleared by MAG is not only useful to myself, but is important for the country."
– Solaman Raj
Actor and MAG Ambassador Rosamund Pike visited our team in Cambodia in February.
During Rosamund’s trip, she spoke to our team of brave deminers and learnt how it felt to be just inches away from deadly landmines and unexploded bombs.
Watch the incredible video from her trip which was also shared at the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) Symposium.