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By: Leonie Barnes[53] & Stuart Maslen[54]


Mine awareness, one of the five pillars of mine action,[55] seeks to reduce the number of mine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) casualties through programs of information, education and community liaison. In general terms, these three activities can be considered, respectively, as appropriate to three distinct, though overlapping situations: conflict or immediate post-conflict (emergency); transitional; and developmental.[56] This article reviews the current state of mine awareness by reference to these differing contexts, and seeks to draw out a number of key lessons relevant to coordination and integration of mine awareness, notably from Cambodia and Kosovo.


In an emergency characterized by conflict, instability and large-scale population movements, mine awareness can typically only hope to communicate basic mine safety messages using mass media techniques[57]—to inform rather than to educate.[58] In such a situation, a program is genuinely seeking to raise “awareness,” particularly among refugees and the internally displaced, of the threat (or suspected threat)[59] of mines and UXO.

An initial feasibility study should be conducted prior to initiating activities, but its compass is likely to be fairly limited and the data gathered will probably be sketchy, possibly misleading and perhaps even wildly inaccurate. By the nature of mass media and the emergency context, messages will be poorly targeted and will need to be constantly reviewed as more and better information on the contamination and its social and economic impact becomes available.[60] Equally, widespread broadcasting of mine awareness messages prior to the return of communities displaced by conflict is likely at best to have a short-term impact. Now should begin a monitoring exercise that must continue throughout the program lifecycle.[61]


As the cessation of hostilities and subsequent peace-building initiatives bring greater stability to a region, so the nature of mine awareness should change with the surrounding environment.[62] In a society in transition from emergency to development, the focus of mine awareness should quickly shift from one of public information to community-level education—seeking to educate defined target groups to change their behavior to minimize risk.

Program planning should encompass a more comprehensive needs assessment, if those at greatest risk are indeed to be targeted more effectively.[63] The assessment should include discussion with a re-emerging civil society, which will provide a mine awareness program with a locally focused conduit to strengthen its delivery systems and help make it more responsive to the real needs of the community.

Further, in the transitional context the exploitation of media and media tools[64] comes to the fore. Carefully assessing available and traditional forms of communication in the target groups[65] will likely prevent a headlong rush to print posters that may communicate little apart from the pride of the donors.[66] Likewise, T–shirts may be effective incentive items for awareness instructors—and the community can always use free clothing—but their pedagogical value is at least debatable.

But whatever the media chosen to deliver the message, certain, underlying principles (it is too early yet to call them standards) should apply. For instance, there appears to be widespread agreement that programs should resist the temptation to adapt materials from other contexts and in any event not use materials and media that have not been field tested prior to their active deployment.[67] How this will play out in practice, though, is another matter. At least one leading mine awareness organization has indicated that systematic field-testing of all materials is “unrealistic.”[68]

In terms of educational methodology, it is generally agreed that participatory methods of learning are more effective[69] than the traditional “chalk and talk” of yesteryear.[70] Yet, too often, mine awareness programs tend to be based on “presentations,” or worse “lectures,” whereby the “instructors” pass on the good word to the ostensibly uninformed.[71] This is not only disempowering, it also fails to recognize the knowledge and coping skills within the communities forced to live daily with the mine threat. Often the members of these communities possess greater expertise around mines than the self-proclaimed experts.

In addition, mine awareness has still only paid lip service to the need to draw lessons from other public health and development education campaigns, such as HIV/AIDS awareness, breastfeeding promotion and anti-smoking initiatives.[72] Heavy-handed shock tactics may have a limited effectiveness, and can be inappropriate in a number of cultures.


It is, however, probably in the development context, where the population has had to live longest with mines and UXO that the greatest changes in mine awareness can be observed. In Cambodia, for instance, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has begun to distance its operations from “pure” mine awareness, with the result that information transfer has taken a back seat to dialogue with the community about, not only the landmine threat, but also wider developmental problems.[73]

For in situations of long-term mine and UXO impact, knowledge of mines and their dangers tends to be high. Villagers who have lived with a threat for a long while develop coping mechanisms and try to avoid affected areas to the maximum extent possible; in these circumstances, standard mine awareness messages such as “Don’t touch!” are useless to the community. Accidents, though, still occur, largely because of intentional risk-taking brought about by survival pressures.[74] The presence of mines further marginalizes already impoverished post-conflict communities to the extent that crops have to be sown and gathered and firewood and water collected, even in cases where the only available land is affected by mines or UXO.

Here, risk-mapping, where community members identify and/or draw out mined areas or areas contaminated by UXO and associated risk behaviors, can feed in to the mine marking and clearance priority-setting process. And as a result of its community focus, mine awareness/community liaison is also well placed to identify mine survivors who have unmet needs. Although community liaison teams should not necessarily be expected to have technical expertise in mine survivor assistance, sometimes amputees are not aware of the existence of prosthetics clinics, or believe that being fitted with a replacement or even first artificial limb will be prohibitively expensive. In such a case, the simple transfer of information—and possibly the provision of transport—can suffice to make a world of difference to an individual and his/her family.

Moreover, in certain contexts, for example Laos, for a number of years now MAG has been taking the logic of community liaison one step further forward by deploying fully integrated “Mine Action Teams.” Made up of 10-15 individuals with different mine action expertise, including community liaison, (largely) manual demining and EOD, survey and mine awareness, they seek to develop effective, short-term solutions to village-level contamination.[75]

Of course, coordinating interventions within a single organization or institution is far easier than coordinating horizontally across sectors. Although there are positive indications of progress, it remains to be seen how far mine action will be able to reach out to other humanitarian actors and effectively integrate its work within the wider development world.[76]


Indeed, frequent have been the calls for more coordination in mine awareness, both internationally and at field level. In Kosovo, so high was the number of different organizations and institutions involved in mine awareness, the most pressing task was to ensure a coherent approach to the discipline across the province.[77] In what was really a logical step, but one that to many appeared radical and innovative, the UN Mine Action Coordination Center (MACC) took the “coordination” aspect of its title seriously in relation to mine awareness.

The model of coordination first applied was loosely based on that applied to mine clearance. First and foremost, agencies had to be accredited with the MACC to operate in a mine awareness context in Kosovo. Accreditation meant presenting to the MACC Public Information Branch (Mine Awareness Section) the following: evidence of a curriculum of training; a suitable training methodology; qualified officers capable of implementing such a program; an indication of a monitoring and evaluation plan for the project; and evidence of field-testing of any new material to be used.

Second, the MACC developed a reporting system for mine awareness, which meant visibility of agency activity by location and particular activity. The database, which, initially at least, was embraced only reluctantly by the mine action community, has since been acknowledged as a very effective coordination tool and adopted as the basic model for the IMSMA (Information Management System for Mine Action) Mine Awareness Module.

Third, the MACC established a series of clear guidelines for quality assurance of training in various methodologies and with different target audiences. Qualified educators with a sound background in mine action then enforced these guidelines. Agencies not operating within acceptable standards were requested to retrain their staff or to reassess the information they were passing or developing. Accreditation was withdrawn until satisfactory action had taken place.

Fourth, the MACC established a series of regular (monthly) centralized mine awareness meetings and (weekly) regional mine action meetings. Mine Awareness agencies were required to coordinate activities centrally (i.e., where in the province they would work) and regionally (with whom in their area).


But it became clear over time that mine clearance and mine awareness were operating too much in isolation of one another. In one instance, a mine clearance organization had completed a Level Two (Technical) Survey on an area—no mines were found and the area was certified clear. Some months later, however, the community was still under the impression that there was a mine threat in the area, and the deminers were coming back. The area had been visited several times by independent mine awareness agencies.

Accordingly, in 2000, guidelines were set out for the establishment of a Mine Action Support Team (MAST) for each mine or battle area clearance organization,[78] and mine awareness agencies were tasked to provide support to every clearance organization where an integral mine awareness capacity did not already exist. To formalize the arrangements and to ensure all participants were aware of the degree of importance the MACC placed on this concept, completed mine awareness arrangements were included as part of the quality assurance and certification process of completed clearance tasks.

The MASTs were tasked to support clearance activities before, during and after a task, through communication and facilitation between community and clearance organization. These included who would be working, where, why, for how long, and on what particular threat. It also included negotiating special needs, such as access to vehicle tracks during working hours for quick casualty evacuation; negotiating animal access routes to cross certain areas; and respecting farmers’ property while working in the area. Deliberate efforts were made to discuss with the community exactly what mine threat they faced, and what was going to be done about it.

Thus, in one case, a battle area clearance agency was working in an apple orchard, clearing cluster munitions. The team leader complained to the MAST leader that the farmer was constantly interrupting his work by coming to pick apples while his team was working. The MAST leader went to the farmer and asked why he insisted on picking now—why couldn’t he wait? The farmer replied that he wouldn’t need to pick his apples if the deminers would stop eating them!

In another case, a mine clearance organization needed access to a logging track kept clear while they were demining. This would also allow a clear route for casualty evacuation if necessary. The loggers constantly blocked access with their tractors. The MAST leader negotiated that loggers would wait until after three in the afternoon to collect their logs, thereby leaving the roads clear during demining hours.


But in seeking to coordinate and even integrate with other mine action and development intervention, mine awareness must also do more to demonstrate its effectiveness (and efficiency) as a means of reducing casualties. One point that perhaps all mine awareness operators can agree on is that monitoring and evaluation of the outcome (as opposed to progress in the implementation) of a program represents a significant challenge.[79] It is easy enough to report that a program has “reached” a certain number of men, women and children in a set of given communities. This, however, does nothing to indicate whether these individuals and families are safer as a result. Have the “program beneficiaries” understood the messages communicated? Have they internalized them? Can they put into practice the techniques they have been taught?

What is more, other factors such as mine clearance and population movements may be responsible for a reduction (or even an increase) in mine and UXO casualties.[80] In the same way as mine clearance is looking beyond more quantitative measurements of progress, such as numbers of mines and quantities of square meters of land cleared, to assess the social and economic impact of its work on communities,[81] so mine awareness evaluations must seek to judge success on the basis of more representative proxy indicators.[82] For, Kosovo notwithstanding, if a number of mine clearance organizations have in the past been almost contemptuous of mine awareness, it is partly because mine awareness operators have not successfully convinced others that the discipline actually works.[83]

UNICEF has announced that it is developing guidelines on monitoring and evaluation of mine awareness programs; the guidelines will be included as a technical annex to the mine awareness standards it is also sponsoring.[84] The challenge will be to develop straightforward methodologies that can be easily put into practice; otherwise the best may be the enemy of the good.


Over the coming year, mine awareness will have the opportunity to mature as a discipline. A number of new initiatives provide concrete evidence of a widespread willingness on the part of a number of mine awareness actors to learn lessons and gather and share experiences with a view to improving the quality of programs. Kosovo is probably a unique situation, but its lessons for mine awareness—good and bad—have general applicability.

Yet, these combined experiences have also demonstrated that many operators still face a steep learning curve, notably in trying to professionalize mine awareness. Staff development, national accreditation and standardization of curriculum and methodologies, and improved monitoring and evaluation all represent significant future challenges to the mine awareness community.

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[53] Leonie Barnes is a mine action consultant in Eritrea. Previously, she was the Chief of Public Information at the UN Mine Action Coordination Center in Pristina, Kosovo. She has contributed in particular to the section, “Coordination with Mine Clearance: Lessons from Kosovo” based on her experiences in the field.
[54] Stuart Maslen is the Landmine Monitor thematic researcher for mine awareness. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Landmine Monitor.
[55] The other four “pillars,” or “complementary core components,” are, respectively, mine survey, marking, clearance and data collection; mine ban advocacy; mine victim assistance; and stockpile destruction.
[56] Of course, the contexts and the accompanying programs are not necessarily linear and uniform even within a single country or region.
[57] Thus, for example, the ICRC reports that in Kisangani, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, when civilians returned home after the fighting between Rwanda and Uganda abated, an emergency information campaign was launched through the local radio to inform the population of the dangers posed by UXO and mines laid by the parties to the conflict. See Laurence Desvignes, “The International Committee of the Red Cross Mine/UXO Awareness Programs,” Journal of Mine Action, Issue 4.3, Fall 2000, p. 8.
[58] See for instance Summary Report of the International Workshop on the Design of Materials, Resources and Other Media in Mine Awareness Programs, Rädda Barnen, Beirut, May 2001, point 6.
[59] Care must therefore be taken not to create “mine panic,” such as might have occurred in Kosovo. Remarks by John Flanagan, Program Manager, UN Mine Action Coordination Center, Pristina, during discussion on mine awareness at the Fourth International Meeting of Mine Action Program Directors and Advisors, Geneva, 6 February 2001.
[60] They will also have to be repeated in order to ensure effective internalization. See for instance Christine Knudsen, “The Challenges for Mine Awareness Education for Children in Afghanistan,” Journal of Mine Action, Issue 4.3, Fall 2000, p. 11.
[61] See below for further discussion of the challenges and pitfalls of monitoring and evaluating mine awareness programs.
[62] See Laurence Desvignes, “The International Committee of the Red Cross Mine/UXO Awareness Programs,” op. cit., p. 7.
[63] Ibid, p. 3.
[64] Here media is used in its widest sense, to cover all forms of communicating a message, not merely the mass media, such as radio, television and newspapers.
[65] The International Workshop on the Design of Materials, Resources and Other Media in Mine Awareness Programs, held in Aden, Yemen, in February 2001, concluded among other things that: “A careful needs assessment should be the basis on which all tools, media and other resources are elaborated. A needs assessment is necessary to determine the nature, extent and perception of a mine/unexploded ordnance problem, the at-risk populations and risk-taking behavior, the existing resources available to address the problem, and the appropriate mine awareness messages and their effective delivery. A mine awareness communication strategy must be underpinned by the findings of the needs assessment and any subsequent information obtained through formative research and ongoing monitoring.” Summary Report of the International Workshop on the Design of Materials, Resources and Other Media in Mine Awareness Programs, Rädda Barnen, Beirut, May 2001, point 1.
[66] Thus, in a mine-affected country recently visited by one of the authors, the local office of a leading mine awareness organization wrote that they did not require a needs assessment before initiating a mine awareness program, “just some posters.”
[67] See for instance Summary Report of the International Workshop on the Design of Materials, Resources and Other Media in Mine Awareness Programs, Rädda Barnen, Beirut, May 2001, points 3 & 4.
[68] Remarks made during the International Workshop on the Design of Materials, Resources and Other Media in Mine Awareness Programs, Aden, Yemen, 21 February 2001.
[69] And transforming a society whose teachers have been trained to do the latter is a challenge, albeit a potentially rewarding one. See for instance Christine Knudsen, “The Challenges for Mine Awareness Education for Children in Afghanistan,” Journal of Mine Action, Issue 4.3, Fall 2000, p. 11.
[70] A good example of a mine awareness activity that could rightly claim to be ‘participatory’ is the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)-sponsored theatre group that has traveled around Kosovo. A former ICRC mine awareness instructor, in reality a professional actor, adapted a version of the well-known story, Little Red Riding Hood, in which our eponymous heroine is threatened by mines as well as by the wretched wolf. The target audience of children and their parents has to shout out instructions to Little Red Riding Hood to prevent her being injured. Using professional actors, the play has entertained as well as educated, thus facilitating longer retention of the key messages.
[71] See for instance Laurence Desvignes, “The International Committee of the Red Cross Mine/UXO Awareness Programs,” op. cit., p. 2.
[72] See for instance Summary Report of the International Workshop on the Design of Materials, Resources and Other Media in Mine Awareness Programs, Rädda Barnen, Beirut, May 2001, point 5.
[73] Discussion with Andy Wheatley, Community Liaison Manager, MAG, 21 February 2001. See also Laurence Desvignes, “The International Committee of the Red Cross Mine/UXO Awareness Programs,” op. cit., p. 3.
[74] See Eric Filippino, “Implementing Landmine Awareness Programs: Constraints and Strategies,” Journal of Mine Action, Issue 4.3, Fall 2000, p. 22.
[75] Discussion with Andy Wheatley, Community Liaison Manager, MAG, 21 February 2001.
[76] See for instance Ted Paterson et al., A Study of Socio-Economic Approaches to Mine Action” (Geneva: UN Development Program and Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining, March 2001), pp. 91-96.
[77] In August 1999, 23 agencies were seeking to conduct mine awareness education of one kind in another in Kosovo. The types of activity ranged from handing out T-shirts and comic books to training community volunteers. Coordination was difficult, visibility of activity was impossible and clarity of the messages each agency was promoting was obscured.
[78] See Chapter 20 of MACC Technical Standards and Guidelines, available at: <welcome.to/macckosovo>.
[79] See for instance Laurence Desvignes, “The International Committee of the Red Cross Mine/UXO Awareness Programs,” op. cit., p. 3.
[80] Ibid.
[81] See Eric Filippino, “Implementing Landmine Awareness Programs: Constraints and Strategies,” op. cit., p. 18; Ted Paterson et al, A Study of Socio-Economic Approaches to Mine Action, op. cit., p. 3.
[82] One example might be the number of reports of the presence of mines or UXO to the appropriate authorities—a clear indication that certain key messages have been acted on.
[83] See for instance Eric Filippino, “Implementing Landmine Awareness Programs: Constraints and Strategies,” op. cit., pp. 19, 23.
[84] UNICEF contribution to Landmine Monitor—Appendices, undated but received 13 July 2001.