New landmine emergency threatens communities in Iraq and Syria

Twenty years on from the historic Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (Ottawa Treaty), the world is facing a new landmine emergency, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) have warned. The regional conflict in Iraq and Syria has resulted in a scale of contamination not seen for decades. 

The international NGO – which has been working in the region since 1992 – is reporting an increase in the numbers of fatalities and injuries from these indiscriminate killers. MAG has cleared over 11,000 newly laid landmines in areas of Iraq and Syria since the start of its emergency response in areas formerly occupied by Da’esh. 

Over 9,000 have been safely cleared and destroyed by MAG teams in the last six months alone. Unless urgent action is taken and more funding provided to respond to this new emergency, many more lives will be lost and the safe delivery of humanitarian aid impeded. “We are witnessing a new landmine emergency on a scale not seen since the historic treaty to ban landmines was agreed twenty years ago,” said Jane Cocking, MAG’s new CEO. 

“The viciousness of the devices being planted across Iraq and Syria is unimaginable. They are sensitive enough to be triggered by a child’s footstep, but powerful enough to disable a tank. MAG is protecting communities and supporting the humanitarian response by escalating our operations. We are fielding more teams as fast as we can.” 

January 15 marks the anniversary of Princess Diana’s visit to a minefield in Angola, eleven months before the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, also known as the Ottawa Treaty was agreed. Over 160 states have since signed the treaty and the action taken to remove mines has resulted in 27 countries and one area (Taiwan) declaring themselves mine-free. 

However, progress towards clearance of all mined areas by 2025 – a commitment made by treaty states in 2014 – is already in jeopardy as a result of insufficient funding. This is before the scale of new contamination being discovered in Iraq and Syria is taken into account.

Just to keep pace with the emergency clearance of newly laid landmines, at least $100m a year of additional funds will be needed for mine action NGOs, MAG warns. “States, champions and supporters of the treaty have a choice in this historic anniversary year. 

They can let the legacy of one of the world’s most successful treaties be damaged, or they can redouble their efforts to eliminate these deadly and indiscriminate weapons. This will require renewed political will and more money to finish the job – from older conflicts and new emergencies.” said Cocking.

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