Today I attended an event on the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. This event was held at the United Nations and the panel discussions were on “Colombia: Keeping up the Momentum”. Demining in Colombia and various other countries such as South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo is essential to development. In Colombia, there is a large initiative called the Humanitarian Demining Battalion #60 that has made great progress in clearing various explosives. According to the lieutenant colonial director, during 2007-2013, 19,612 mines were cleared and 4,789 explosive devices destroyed. However, due to financial cut backs in 2012 from donor countries, the initiatives were not as successful as hoped. Nevertheless, the demining projects continue to clear dangerous areas so that people can return to their homes. For example, in two municipalities 70% of displaced people were able to return to their land. It is important to note that for these important operations to continue areas must be free of armed conflict so that the welfare of the civilian workers is ensured.
Land mines provide a clear and present danger for the civilian population, the most vulnerable being children. At the same time, women have been able to obtain jobs through the demining efforts. The UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) reports that one third of the population working with the HALO Trust program, the world’s oldest and largest humanitarian landmine clearance organization, are women. In addition, women and men from rural areas have been provided the chance to restore their communities and have benefited from the socioeconomic development opportunity that the program has provided. An increased capacity for gender equality in Colombian society along with the elimination of sexist beliefs have been beneficial by-products of the HALO Trust program.
It is important that the HALO Trust program continue so that Colombia is free of land mines so that the people are no longer in danger and can return to their land. This year there have been 63 reported victims of land mines and other explosive devices. Colombia is made up of municipalities and 70% of them are affected by land mines. This contributes to the large number of internally displaced people. Mountainous regions are the most effected by land mines which makes it difficult for programs to locate the explosives. In addition, the ongoing armed conflict involving the drug cartels has added to the difficulty. HALO Trust and UNMAS along with the Colombian government hope to have a land mine free country by the year 2021.
Presbyterians have a long history of ministry with our brothers and sisters in Colombia, including the Colombia Accompaniment Program.
April 5-7 are the annual Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia.