Distinguished Guests, Foreign Minister Brende, Ambassador Aas, Deputy National Security Advisor Haines, I am delighted to be here today to talk about an issue high on the U.S. Government’s agenda – demining.
Foreign Minister Brende, when you and Secretary Kerry announced the U.S.-Norwegian Demining Initiative last month, I was thrilled. At the core of our efforts is a basic principle: everyone should have the opportunity to walk the earth in safety. We are already making progress towards this goal, but so much of our work remains unfinished.
In my travels to visit our demining programs this past year, I have met many victims of landmines and unexploded ordnance missing their limbs, sight, or hearing. Whether in Southeast Asia, Africa, or Latin America, all of their stories are heartbreaking. In less than a second, a life can be forever changed. Too many have been wounded by the remnants of wars that are no longer even being fought. Many other men, women, and children have lost not their limbs, but their lives, to these hazards.
On my visit to Angola, one of the most mined countries in the world, I heard from government and civil society representatives alike about the drastic reduction in financial support for demining. This funding drop has coincided with falling commodity prices, severely impacting that government’s ability to make up for the shortfall. At current funding rates, Angola could now remain impacted by mines and unexploded ordnance well past 2040. By reinvigorating support for Angolan demining, we may move the deadline closer by 10, even 15 years. Think of how many lives and limbs that could save.
Laos is in a similar situation, which is why Secretary Kerry announced in January we would increase our support from $9 million two years ago to over $19 million in the year ahead for demining in that country.
I traveled to Vietnam’s Quang Tri province and met with farmers who can support their families and build their communities, after their lands were cleared of unexploded ordnance.
In Lebanon, I visited the Lebanese Mine Action Center’s mine detection dog facilities in Hammana. This Center’s work provides a sustainable capacity that will keep thousands of civilians safe for years to come.
These are just a few examples, and I know all of you working in mine-affected countries have many more stories about the real, tangible impact that mine action funding has on the lives of innocent civilians around the world.
We most gratefully welcome Norway’s joining us in increasing support for mine action this year, especially in partnership with us in the Global Demining Initiative for Colombia; however governments cannot accomplish the task alone.
I am optimistic we can make a difference if all of us work together. Just fifteen years ago, explosive remnants of war killed or injured nearly 10,000 men, women, and children every year. Thanks to the efforts of the international community – and many of the non-governmental organizations in this room – that figure has now dropped by more than 60 percent.
Mine action is an essential investment. It is the prerequisite for post-conflict recovery. But this vital task requires the cooperation and participation of non-governmental organizations and the private sector without our governments. So we, the United States, and Norway call upon you to join us in investing in demining and the opportunity for more people to walk the earth in safety.
Source: U.S. State Department.