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United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF), Landmine Monitor Report 2004

United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF)

Since entry into force of the Mine Ban Treaty in 1999, and the adoption of the UN policy on mine action,[1] UNICEF has significantly increased its contribution to alleviating suffering caused by landmines and other explosive remnants of war. Over the past five years, the number of countries and regions where UNICEF supports mine action in some form or another has more than tripled from ten countries to 34, including:[2] Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burundi, Cambodia, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Liberia, Mauritania, Nepal, Nicaragua, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Panamá, Russian Federation (North Caucasus), Senegal, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria (Golan Heights), Thailand, Vietnam, and Zambia.

In addition, public awareness raising about the effects of landmines and other explosive remnants of war and resource mobilisation initiatives have been supported by a number of UNICEF National Committees, including: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, United Kingdom, and United States of America.

In 2004, UNICEF’s global financial requirements for mine action exceeded 29,000,000 US dollars, of which US$11,000,000 had been received by August. Foremost among UNICEF’s donors include DFID, SIDA, CIDA, UNICEF National Committees, the European Commission, the governments of Australia, Italy, Germany, and the United States of America, among others.

Since 1999, UNICEF’s approach to mine action has varied according to the particular context and scope of the problem being faced in a wide variety of countries. Some country programmes have incorporated a wide range of activities including: risk education, support to landmine survivors, advocacy and in some exceptional circumstances support to mined area marking and small-scale humanitarian mine clearance. In other smaller programmes UNICEF has continued to focus on the support to risk education or a particular element of it such as integrating risk education in school curricula, undertaking mass media campaigns and advocacy.

Early UNICEF projects were often undertaken in refugee camps and linked with UNESCO, UNHCR, and NGOs. Such programmes focused on the provision of basic warning messages, informing communities of the nature of mines and UXO and their threat and to helping avoid the risk. Media utilised were usually posters, TV and radio broadcasts, leaflets, and so on. At the time, one of the primary motivations for UNICEF to undertake MRE stemmed from the need to protect children in post-conflict situations and the threat mines and UXO posed especially to safe repatriation. Since that time UNICEF has targeted both adults and children.

Prior to 1999, UNICEF mine action activities were not directed or coordinated by any single mine action policy or strategy, but were more often guided by the need to protect vulnerable children in threatening situations in the framework of UNICEF’s broader child protection initiatives. The activities of UNICEF in the field of MRE were, however, formalised in 1998 with the release of the UN Mine Action Policy, which designated UNICEF as the focal point in the UN system for risk education, humanitarian advocacy and gave it a strong supporting role in survivor assistance.[3] Some of the more important reasons for UNICEF taking on the role of MRE focal point were due to its added value in supporting education programmes, its existing presence in all mine affected countries and past experience in implementing MRE, its resource mobilisation capacity, and its capacity and willingness to work with a range of governmental and non-governmental partners at a global, regional, national, and local level.

Following the adoption of the UN mine action policy, UNICEF began to reorient its activities to serve its newfound role within the UN system. At the time, UNICEF with partners undertook the development of system-wide minimum standards for MRE and a series of training manuals for project managers and community facilitators (International Guidelines for Landmine and UXO Awareness Education, UN 1999). Additionally, UNICEF placed staff to work with Mine Action Centres (MAC) in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Angola, among others, to support national coordination and strategy development for MRE. Where large-scale mine action programmes exist UNICEF continues to support the placement of an MRE advisor/coordinator in MACs. In smaller country programmes or where there is no MAC, UNICEF normally supports the implementation of MRE projects with its partners. At the international level, UNICEF co-convenes the MRE Working Group with the ICBL, promotes best practice and actively participates in actions coordinated by UNMAS, particularly related to rapid response planning, advocacy, and the development of a range of mine action policies and strategies.

To further consolidate and broaden its efforts, in 2001 UNICEF developed the UNICEF Mine Action Strategy 2002-2005. This strategy outlines the role and activity of UNICEF headquarters, country and regional offices in relation to mine action. The strategy requires that UNICEF, working with partners, seek to ensure that mine affected communities are aware of and able to reduce mine risks, advocate for and with those affected, promote best practice in MRE, advocate for universal ratification and implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty, and promote the further development of international humanitarian law in relation to other indiscriminate weapons and explosive remnants of war.

As a reflection of its broader role in mine action, UNICEF MRE projects have, in many cases, evolved from fairly straightforward public awareness and information shows to more integrated community-based education programmes. From the early to late 1990s, blanket mass media campaigns, which focused on communication strategies, were often undertaken without any thorough assessment or analysis of the nature of the mine problem and how it affected communities. Over the past five years, there have been many advancements in the field of MRE, and principally these relate to the professionalisation and diversification of the sector, as well as improvements in terms of the understanding of the nature and conditions of mine-risk and impact. When analysing the contribution of MRE to reducing risk, UNICEF has learnt that it is important to measure the rate of mine casualties in a systematic and ongoing fashion while also measuring the extent to which MRE has promoted positive behavioural change. In many countries MRE messages and methods have been adjusted from those which simply teach people basic mine recognition skills and warning messages with the expectation that they will avoid mines, to implementing detailed qualitative surveys which uncover primary factors that contribute to landmine accidents and risk-taking such as poverty, displacement, and social exclusion. Though there is always room for improvement, relatively the understanding of behaviour leading to accidents and the contribution of UNICEF to promoting safer behaviour is far more advanced and, on a country by country basis, can be more systematically addressed.

An important part of this change was the development and practice of integrated mine action and the “community liaison approach” (CLA) in the late 90s, originally and most clearly articulated and practiced by the Mines Advisory Group. CLA is an effort to integrate impact assessment, with risk education, and mine clearance (it also sometimes involves support to survivor assistance programmes by providing referrals and transportation for survivors). The principle of the approach is that communities should be engaged in prioritising which of these activities (or combination) should be applied, and provide training and resources to communities so that they can deal with the problem in the longer term. CLA often involves a mixture of qualitative and quantitative assessment techniques, the recruitment and training of community volunteers and the establishment of reliable communication channels between affected communities and mine action services, especially demining. What was (and remains) particularly revolutionary about the approach was that it did not normally involve delivering standard MRE messages based on assumptions of the lack of knowledge of communities, but rather attempted to engage communities, eliciting experiences and solutions to problems from the affected communities. Generally, and within UNICEF, CLA has come to be seen as best practice in MRE particularly in long term mined environments. Some limitations to the approach have been found in emergency settings where populations are on the move and the mine problem is often fluid. Under such circumstances mass media programmes are often still considered the most effective to reach the greatest number in the shortest time. CLA attached with mass media, education and training activities collectively make up Mine Risk Education.

Such a view of MRE was enshrined in 2003 through the finalisation of the mine risk education component of the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) by UNICEF with the support of Cranfield Mine Action.[4] The standards include a new definition of MRE:

educational activities which seek to reduce the risk of injury from mines/UXO by raising awareness and promoting behavioural change including public information dissemination, education and training, and community mine action liaison.

The standards define best practice for undertaking integrated mine action, MRE assessments, monitoring and evaluation, implementation and continuous data gathering (surveillance). The standards also enshrine principles related to gender and other ethical principles, such as engaging affected communities, preserving privacy, “do no harm” and so on.

While the standards were developed by UNICEF they are applicable to all UN programmes and programme partners and have been incorporated in the overall IMAS framework under the management of UNMAS. The expectation is that the international standards will be translated and national standards developed by mine action centres and authorities. As of August 2004, the international standards were being translated into Pashto, Dari, Khmer, Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian, Portuguese, and Chinese to facilitate communication. And since the middle of 2003, national standards were being developed with the support of UNICEF and GICHD in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, Sri Lanka, and Angola. To further support the understanding and implementation of the standards UNICEF has also entered into an agreement with GICHD to produce user-manuals.

Supporting the development of the international standards and MRE coordination efforts on behalf of the MRE community at large, while continuing to undertake direct MRE programmes stands out as a fairly unique feature of UNICEF’s approach to mine action over the last five years. At the global level, UNICEF is also exploring a “public health approach” to mine action. Such an approach seeks to integrate mine action in public health planning and services and adopts many tools such as epidemiological surveillance, morbidity and mortality surveys, and behavioural change methodologies. The purpose of this work is to help mainstream mine action into public health and ensure its sustainability. In 2003 UNICEF began training in public health and mine action with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a programme of work that will continue over the next three years.

In the coming years, UNICEF will continue its support of Mine Risk Education and will seek to apply a more strategic approach which builds on its own institutional strengths as well as its invaluable partnerships with mine action NGOs, the ICRC, UN partners, and national mine action authorities. In coming years this approach will come through the continued promotion of the inclusion of MRE in the school syllabus, in injury surveillance and public health planning, child protection, and by integrating MRE processes in demining, community organizations, and structures.

[1] Mine Action and Effective Coordination: The United Nations Policy, 53rd session of the UN General Assembly, 1998.
[2] New among these countries for 2004 are Indonesia, Liberia, Chad, Thailand, Nepal and Senegal.
[3] This policy was in the process of being updated at the time of writing.
[4] These standards superseded the 1st International Guidelines developed by UNICEF in 1999.