In many countries struggling to recover from conflicts, landmines and unexploded munitions obstruct the path to stabilization and inhibit long-term development. When you remove these deadly hazards, you enable communities to unlock their potential, realize the benefits of a return to peace, and further the larger goal of promoting stability and security.
For this reason, the United States is proud to be the world’s single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction programs in dozens of countries around the globe. On August 3, the U.S. Department of State released its 9th annual report on these efforts, entitled, "To Walk the Earth in Safety."
In 2009 alone, the U.S. Department of State spent 130 million $ for de-mining and weapons destruction assistance in 32 countries, and on programs to support conflict survivors and to raise awareness about potential risks from landmines and other unexploded munitions in their communities.
At a press conference to introduce the report, Deputy Assistant Secretary Tom Masiello said that this important U.S. humanitarian mission brings together experts from the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Defense; the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID; the Department of Health and Human Services; and dozens of private and public non-governmental organizations.
But the most important partners are local communities, said Mr. Masiello. In Afghanistan, for example, the United States funds Afghan-based NGOs who work with village leaders to determine which areas need to be cleared first. They then hire and train locals as demining technicians. Once clearance operations are completed, these community-based demining programs provide vocational training that complements USAID development programs, helping Afghans move forward on post-conflict recovery and open up new economic opportunities.
Another important aspect of this U.S. peace building effort is destroying excess weaponry and promoting safe storage of remaining armaments, said Mr. Masiello.
Like Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina faces significant mine-clearance challenges; a tragic legacy from the conflicts of the early 1990s. But Bosnia is also dotted with weapons depots. The U.S. is partnering with Bosnia, and a number of other countries worldwide, not only on landmine clearance, but also to secure or destroy surplus or at-risk munitions, small arms and light weapons.
"Since 1993, we have destroyed 1.4 million small arms and light weapons, and 80,000 tons of munitions," said Deputy Assistant Secretary Masiello. "We are very proud of the work that we are doing."