Landmine removal key to development: UNDP

Nairobi, December 2, 2004 - Countries contaminated by landmines will never develop without the removal of these deadly weapons, a high-ranking UN Development Program (UNDP) official said Thursday on the sidelines of a landmine conference in Kenyan capital Nairobi.

"The landmine problem is a critical development issue. The terrible human toll taken by these indiscriminate weapons is compounded by deep and lasting economic damage," Julia Taft, the UN Assistant Secretary General and Director of the UNDP Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Recovery told a news conference on the sidelines of the Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World. "Landmines restrict access to water and keep schools and hospitals and roads from being built. They prevent the safe return of refugees and the internally displaced. They breed instability in fragile post-conflict environment and terrorize entire populations," Taft noted.

"Millions of mines still in the ground mean that there are hundreds of roads that cannot be traveled, thousands of acres of farmlands that cannot be tilled, and entire communities that are deprived of health care and education and essential investment," she told reporters.

The UN official said eradication of landmines and assistance to victims should be considered both a humanitarian imperative and an investment in the future.

"These are indiscriminate weapons that do not distinguish between enemy, combatants, farmers at work, or children at play," Taft, whose bureau promotes and supports extensive mine action programs in 27 countries around world, said. She said more than 80 countries around the globe suffer from landmine contamination, and 35 are considered severely affected. Taft urged heavily-mined countries and the international community to mainstream mine action into their own development assistance programs.

"Many more people have suffered and died because of the indirect but equally lethal impact of landmines as an obstacle to development," the UNDP official stressed. She cited Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia, Cambodia and Mozambique as heavily affected by landmines, but they have made mine action an integral part of their development plans and budgets.

The Nairobi summit is reviewing progress made toward a mine- free world over the past five years and preparing an action plan for the future.

The Antipersonnel Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention, entered into force in March 1999 and prohibits the manufacture, trade and use of antipersonnel landmines. It also obliges countries to destroy stockpiles and clear their own mined territory.

The summit is expected to come up with two documents. One of them is a program of action on how the goals of the convention are to be achieved, while the second one will be a political declaration by parties reaffirming their commitments to the convention.