On Thursday the 15th of March, I had the pleasure of going to see Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank at the Harvard Club on Commonwealth Ave. He was delivering a speech titled “The Deficit and Defense” and it was to an audience of around 100 individuals representing both the private and public sector.
Mr. Frank’s speech was geared towards explaining how our inflated military budget, which is currently around $700 billion including the war in Afghanistan, contributes to the national deficit, which is near $1 trillion, and the long term costs of servicing this debt. Our military spending is greater than the next 14 highest spending countries in the world and accounts for over 45% of all the worlds military expenditures. While Mr. Frank is a great supporter of our troops and wants them to have the absolute best equipment and weaponry available, it was clear in his talk that he firmly believes that today’s military strategy and structure is from an era that no longer exists.
Today is an opportunity to revitalize international support for mine action, as we celebrate International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. The day emphasizes that clearing land of explosive remnants of war saves lives and protects livelihoods, and that landmines and other unexploded devices – known as unexploded ordnance, or UXO – are unique because their destructiveness is indiscriminate and long outlasts the conflicts in which they are used. They are particularly dangerous for children. Furthermore, landmines violate nearly all the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They severely disrupt economic activity, halt rebuilding after conflict and lead to increased food security because farming and irrigation are prevented.
Landmines and explosive remnants of war continue to kill or injure thousands of people a year. With high level interest in the Convention on Cluster Munitions (54 member states have already ratified it) and the innovative Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (98 member states have already ratified it) worldwide efforts to remove landmines and explosive remnants of war are at the top of the United Nations agenda.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for “universal adherence to these important treaties, increased support for mine awareness and mine action, and greater global solidarity in support of this crucial element in our drive to build a safer and more prosperous world for all.”
UNICEF, for example, is planning to mark the day through a number of activities in Lao PDR – the most bombed country per capita in history. UXO survivors are attending workshops on advocacy in Vientiane Capital and will be given the opportunity to speak at a special event today, to be held at the National University of Laos stadium.
In the past, close to twenty-one countries have hosted special events to mark the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action on or around April 4th. This day has drawn attention to the plight of survivors and the gradual reduction in new casualties since the anti-personnel mine-ban treaty entered into force in 1999.
Action on land mines was a big focus of UNA-USA up through 2 years ago, when they successfully concluded their Adopt-a-Minefield campaign. UNA-USA raised over $25 million for mine action, cleared over 1,000 minefields, and assisted thousands of survivors. Globally, now there are only 6,000 new casualties each year—as opposed to the 25,000 annual rate recorded in the late 1990’s. There are 156 signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT)—that’s 80% of the world’s nations! Only two countries used landmines last in 2008—rather than the previously widespread use in over 80 countries. This shows progress can be made.
But more progress is still needed.
Most of the current events around the world are hosted jointly by governments of mine-affected countries and the United Nations agencies that support their mine action efforts and ranged from official events with statements by top governmental and United Nations officials, to mine risk education theater performances, concerts, fund-raisers and photographic exhibitions.
Despite its many well-documented successes, however, mine action remains underfunded. The 2011 portfolio of projects has secured only about a quarter of the needed resources, leaving a funding gap of $367 million.
So there are ways in which YOU can help. The easiest way to get involved is to join the movement to raise awareness about the continued danger of landmines among your family and friends and around the world. Stay connected to what UNICEF is doing, and help work towards a more peaceful and just future for all.