10 years of mine clearance brings hope in Herat
Image credit: DFID
Following 10 years of mine-clearance operations, the Halo Trust has handed back Afghanistan’s most deadly province for landmines to its governor, after making the land safe once again for homes, schools and farmland.
With funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the NGO’s Afghan staff have cleared 39 million square metres of mine fields and 45 million square metres of battlefield in Herat.
In total, more than 600 minefields have been cleared in the province in the west of the country. Two districts in the province have not yet been cleared because of insecurity where they are located.
Minelaying during previous conflicts had left Herat with the highest landmine accident rate in the country. Before mine clearance began there, on average 125 people each year were maimed or killed by landmines each year in the province.
The removal of landmines has had a major impact on Herat’s potential for economic development. Around 75 per cent of the population of the province is rural and millions of square metres of prime agricultural land were unavailable because of the fear of landmines. With UK funding, Halo has made 40 million square metres of agricultural land safe to farm and in doing so has improved food security for farming families.
In Herat City, an entire new district - Jebrail - has been built on land cleared of landmines and has become home for 60,000 people, many of them returning refugees. New schools, colleges, multiple businesses and railway infrastructure has been built on land cleared under the DFID-funded project.
A highlight has been the clearance of landmines around the 15th-century minarets of the Husain Baiqara Madrasa in Herat City. Towering over 30 metres above the city, they are the remains of one of Afghanistan’s most stunning historic landmarks and were long threatened by conflict. By delicately removing landmines from around the bases of the minarets, the Halo Trust has enabled their preservation by Unesco.
James Cowan, CEO of the Halo Trust said: “Among the achievements of this project, one that makes me most proud is the USAID-funded women’s dormitory built at Herat University on land cleared by Halo with UK funding. Hundreds of young women now have access to higher education at Afghanistan’s second-largest university. This has given hope to an entire province of one of the world’s most heavily-mined countries. DFID’s support is saving lives and creating livelihoods.”
In Afghanistan, the UK has supported demining activities, through the Halo Trust in Herat (Western Afghanistan), Baghlan, Balkh and Samangan (Northern Afghanistan) since 2008, through two five-year phases with a total of £20.5 million. This support to the Halo Trust in Afghanistan will end in March 2018, but DFID will be continuing its programming in Asia and Africa including Afghanistan, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Somalia and South Sudan.
This week, Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, spent four days in the Afghan capital, Kabul, at the invitation of the Halo Trust, which is based in Dumfriesshire.
Following her visit, Davidson commented: “The Halo Trust is one of the great Scottish success stories. It now has 8,000 full-time staff around the world operating in conflict and post-conflict zones. As a long-term supporter, I was honoured to have been asked to see its work for myself.
“The Halo Trust is doing tough, dangerous and very important work right across Afghanistan. Every region in Afghanistan is affected by mines and while some have been laid during the current conflict, thousands are left over from the wars of the past. Every minefield has the capacity to maim and kill civilians and they stop local people from being able to farm, build or even travel certain key routes."
“Learning the techniques of landmine clearance has shown me just how dangerous and painstaking the work is. Halo’s staff are committed to ensuring that every part of Afghanistan has a future and every person living here has a chance to go about their daily life without the threat of stepping on one of these killing machines. The UK government has recognised the importance of this work and how vital it is in helping some of the poorest and most unstable countries in the world to develop and become safer, more prosperous places."
Cowan concluded: “It’s 30 years since Halo started its life-saving work in Afghanistan. In that time, governments have come and gone and war has ebbed and flowed. We have stuck the course. Far from leaving Afghanistan, my vision is for an NGO that strengthens, not weakens, its commitment to the country. Halo therefore has plans to employ yet more Afghans and give them a peaceful alternative to war, clearing the debris not only of previous conflicts but dealing with today’s lethal weaponry.
“As Afghanistan’s population grows and pressure for land increases, one day we would like to see all of the country’s land restored to productive use.”