Demining ‘could take 10 years or more’
Landmine clearance in Sri Lanka’s conflict-affected north could take more than a decade, experts say.
“It is expected to take (in) excess of 10 years to fully mitigate all remaining contamination in Sri Lanka,” the Mine Action Project of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Sri Lanka told IRIN, citing a lack of resources coupled with the difficult nature of the work.
Approximately 126sq km of land remained to be cleared in the island’s north at the end of 2011, according to data from the National Mine Action Centre (NMAC).
Set up in July 2010, NMAC is the government’s lead agency in de-mining work in the country.
As of December 31, 2011, the largest remaining area was in Mannar district (33.8sq km), followed by Mullaitivu (27.7sq km), Kilinochchi (23sq km), Vavuniya (15sq km) and Jaffna (5sq km) in the north.
Smaller areas are in borderline districts of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, along with some parts of the east.
More than 6,700 conflict-displaced, mainly from Mullaitivu district, continue to live at Menik Farm outside the town of Vavuniya, where more than 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) once lived following the end of the war between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland since 1983.
According to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), since January 1, 2009, more than 554sq km have been cleared of mines and UXO (unexploded ordnance) in the north and east of the country.
The humanitarian demining unit of the Sri Lanka Army, international organisations – Danish Demining Group, HALO Trust, Horizon, Mines Advisory Group, Sarvatra, and Swiss Foundation for Mine Action – and two national organisations – Delvon Assistance for Social Harmony and the Milinda Moragoda Institute for Peoples’ Empowerment – are engaged in demining work.
Unicef carries out mine risk awareness programmes in the north and east.
The UNDP Mine Action Unit said most of the surveys to identify the mine risk areas had been completed, but the task of clearing the mines and UXO remains time-consuming and labour-intensive.
“It turns out there aren’t any fancy scanners or high-tech mine-removal gadgets that can compete with old-fashioned sweat, discipline, and patience when it comes to picking mines out of the ground,” US diplomat Emily Fleckner said during a December site visit to Kilinochchi, where some of fiercest fighting once took place.
UNDP’s Mine Action Project says the slow work of removing mines was “compounded by decreasing donor funding” for themselves and other mine clearance agencies.