The Colombian people and economy have suffered greatly from landmines placed around the nation in the 1990s by guerrillas, paramilitary organizations and drug traffickers. One estimate finds that mines are responsible for “12,000 injuries and deaths” since 1990. Their looming presence continues to hinder access to education, healthcare facilities and essential services. Governments and NGOs are having a difficult time with demining in Colombia due to the irregular and unpredictable placement of the mines. This complication makes funding for demining in the 63% of Colombian municipalities currently plagued by mines an international priority.
How Landmines Impact Civilians
Armed groups have targeted largely rural areas in mine placement. While mines were intended to harm military personnel, civilians in the rural communities have predominantly faced the tragic consequences. The lingering threat of hidden mines hinders daily life and safety in many municipalities. Due to landmines, communities suffer sudden deaths and mutilations even as Colombia progresses to a time of peace.
The percentage of civilian landmine victims went up from 45% in 2019 to almost 70% in 2020 despite widespread extraction efforts. It is also important to note that civilian deaths and mutilations disproportionately affect indigenous populations of the rural areas.
Global Demining Efforts
The United States is currently responsible for most of the funding for global humanitarian demining. Since 1993, the U.S. has allotted $4 billion to “conventional weapons destruction efforts” internationally. In 2020, the United States set aside $228.5 million for humanitarian demining efforts across 40 nations, including Colombia. Similar funding has successfully removed 1.4 million landmines across 376 square miles of land since 2016.
The funding from the U.S. is essential for the success of demining efforts in Colombia and the U.S. plays an important part in rallying other nations to contribute. As of May 2021, Colombia is the second-most densely landmine-filled nation after war-torn Afghanistan. Given the dire need for extracting landmines in Colombia, the funding provided by the U.S. is necessary to achieve economic stability, community development and improved security.
The United States is not alone in funding demining efforts. Norway is also a strong leader in supporting demining in Colombia, investing $20 million from 2016 to 2020. The United States and Norway also successfully garnered further support from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, the European Union, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K. The nations have all been collaborating since 2016 with the goal of ensuring Colombia is completely mine-free by the end of 2021.
Benefits of Demining
Some of the most prominent successes of this international cooperation appear in the municipalities of Nariño and La Unión, which are now completely clear of landmines. The two areas are home to more than 31,000 Colombians across 200 square miles, making the complete removal of landmines a significant victory for these communities.
In 2019, HALO (Hazardous Area Life-Support Organization) began a study to uncover the impacts of demining on local communities in Nariño and La Unión. Its study finds clear correlations between humanitarian demining in Colombia and socio-economic development that directly benefits the most financially vulnerable families.
Average housing values increased by more than 500% alongside a 38% increase in average household incomes. The study also found that 88% of newly cleared land was used productively for community development, agriculture and transportation. The communities consequently saw a return of 772 formerly displaced families as well as a substantial increase in household spending.
Beyond the quantifiable benefits to impoverished families, demining improves access to healthcare facilities, schools and other social services as previously dangerous land is clear for transportation.
Essentially, the U.S.-funded demining efforts prove to have strong economic benefits for many Colombian families, which include formerly displaced and homeless people who were most economically vulnerable. Demining successes in Colombia stand to show the significance of proper funding for humanitarian demining in order to protect impoverished populations and aid communities formerly devastated by conflict. Removing landmines has clear links to restoring security to communities trying to move past conflict and violence as well as improving economic stability.
While the recent successes from U.S. funding are promising, more funds are still needed to demine the rest of Colombia. Most importantly, the recent victories show the importance of increased funding for these efforts. Some areas, including Choco and Antioquia, have not seen the good fortune that Nariño and La Unión have and are still very much plagued by landmines. Further commitment, funding and assistance are a beacon of hope to impoverished or displaced Colombian families living in mine-strewn municipalities. U.S. funds and initiatives in Nariño and La Unión show the possibility of a mine-free future for the entirety of Colombia.
– Jaya Patten