April 4 marks the release date of the State Department’s twenty-second To Walk the Earth In Safety report, issued by the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. Its goal is to highlight the United States’ accomplishments in conventional weapons destruction.
Indeed, the United States is deeply involved in humanitarian demining programs the world over. Since 1993, the United States has provided more than $4.6 billion for the removal and destruction of unexploded ordnance and improperly secured small arms, light weapons, and munitions. This is crucial work because it saves lives. But it is just a part of the story.
“We see a number of really positive effects from the [conventional weapons destruction] program,” said Karen Chandler, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Programs and Operations in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. “One is gender mainstreaming,” she said.
“In some of the areas where women are able to work as deminers, 60 percent of the female deminers are the sole breadwinner for their family,“ she said. “We also have women in all aspects of the organization, including as EOD, Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel. There are very brave women out there who are willing to go out and do this dangerous work. And in places like Vietnam and Sri Lanka, we actually have female-led demining teams, which is very exciting to see.”
“It really provides tremendous economic opportunity to women,” said Ms. Chandler.
Then there is the question of food security and economic prosperity.
“When farmers are able to return to their land and farm it without fear, then we can see orchards blooming again and we can see rice fields producing again,” she said. “When people are allowed to return to their communities, life can start to go back to normal a little bit after a conflict.”
Finally, there are the environmental aspects of it as well, said Ms. Chandler.
“In places like Africa, we've seen wildlife corridors that have been contaminated by explosive remnants of war,” she said. “And so once you have these native animal populations being able to move freely, then that bolsters tourism and economic development in the surrounding area as well.”
Once an area has been demined, “We see development starting to take place again,” said Ms. Chandler. “We're looking at life being able to return to a more normal level after we've had clearance operations.”