UN Highlights Urgency of Ukraine's Landmine Clearance Efforts, Drawing Parallels to Post-WWII Europe

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Ukraine is faced with the mammoth task of clearing landmines on its territory, a challenge likened to the efforts made to remove explosive hazards in Europe after World War II, according to the United Nations. The UN stated on Wednesday that tackling this issue will require an operation on a comparable scale, necessitating an annual budget of up to $300 million for the next five years. Paul Heslop, the head of UN mine action for the UN Development Programme in Ukraine, emphasized the economic burden caused by landmines in Ukraine and stressed the need to address the most significant problem areas first to accelerate the country's recovery.

Highlighting the urgent nature of the situation, Heslop drew attention to the impact of landmines on critical infrastructure. For instance, he mentioned the damage caused to a power substation by a cluster bomb strike, emphasizing that clearing even a small area surrounding the damaged infrastructure could allow for repairs and the restoration of power to homes. Heslop urged the international community to commit $200-300 million annually over the next five years to facilitate Ukraine's recovery, envisioning a future where Ukraine regains its position as an agricultural powerhouse, ultimately benefiting global food prices.

So far this year, Ukraine has received approximately $35 million in support for landmine clearance efforts. Notably, Ukraine is a signatory to the 1997 Ottawa Treaty, which prohibits the use of anti-personnel mines, whereas Russia is not. However, anti-tank mines, falling outside the treaty's scope, have been utilized by both sides. Heslop underscored the absence of evidence regarding Ukraine's use of anti-personnel mines but highlighted extensive evidence of their deployment by Russian forces.

The recent destruction of the Kakhovka dam in Ukraine has further exacerbated the situation, as floodwaters have swept over known minefields, potentially displacing mines downstream, including lightweight, water-tight anti-personnel mines filled with liquid explosives. Heslop expressed concern that these mines may have reached the sea, raising the possibility of anti-personnel pressure mines washing up on Black Sea beaches.

The gravity of the landmine issue will be the focal point of discussions at the 26th international meeting of mine action national directors and UN advisers taking place in Geneva over the next two days. Stefano Toscano, director of the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, emphasized that over 60 million individuals in nearly 70 countries live under the constant threat of explosive ordnance. Toscano emphasized the prolonged duration required for effective mine clearance, often spanning decades, during which thousands of lives are lost or permanently impacted.

The UN human rights office has verified 290 deaths and 605 injuries caused by mines and explosive remnants of war in Ukraine since the Russian invasion, cautioning that these figures likely represent only a fraction of the actual casualties. The need for urgent action to address the landmine crisis in Ukraine is evident, with the hope that international support and concerted efforts will lead to the country's recovery and the elimination of this pervasive threat.

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