4 December 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




A day after 94 nations signed an international treaty banning the use of cluster munitions, United Nations officials called on donor countries to finance the Organization’s programmes to protect thousands of civilians worldwide from the deadly weapons.

“We’re using this opportunity to call on donors to sustain their generous support for mine action and fill next year’s funding gap”, Dmitry Titov, Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions, said during a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.  “Without full donor support, many mine action initiatives will have to be cancelled and more civilians will be at risk for losing limbs, lives and livelihoods.”

As of 1 November, the United Nations had received just $22 million, or 5 per cent of the $459 million needed to fund Mine Action Projects in 33 countries, territories and peacekeeping operations in 2009, Mr. Titov said.

In Afghanistan, where 1 billion metres of land had been cleared, halving the number of landmine-related casualties and freeing up vital agricultural land for cultivation, the United Nations planned to spend $104 million in 2009, Mr. Titov said.  Another $81 million was earmarked for the Sudan -- where more than 25,000 kilometres of road had been cleared, opening areas to peacekeepers and civilians for the first time in 30 years.  The United Nations also had Mine Action Projects in Chad, Cyprus, Congo, Lebanon, Nepal, Sudan and Western Sahara, 32 of which dealt with cluster munitions.

Whether dropped from aircraft or fired through artillery missiles, cluster bombs could scatter up to 600 munitions across large areas.  On average, 15 per cent of the bombs failed to explode upon hitting the ground, remaining a deadly hazard to civilians long after a conflict ended.

Richard Kollodge, Information Manager for the United Nations Mine Action Service, said, in the past year, a reported 5,426 people in 72 countries died from the explosive remnants of war, half of them children.  However, the actual figure was probably higher, as many deaths went unreported.  Simon Porter, Chief of the Service’s Programme Support Section, added that 176 million were stockpiled in 44 countries, and were used by non-State actors in Afghanistan, Colombia, Ecuador, Iraq, Peru, India, Myanmar, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as by Governments.

The Service worked to clear and demark hazardous areas, educate people about the risks of mines, assist victims, destroy landmine and ammunitions stockpiles, and advocate for the adoption and enforcement of international anti-mine agreements.

During the press conference, correspondents questioned the prospects for the new international treaty’s success since the world’s largest munitions producers -- United States, Russian Federation, China, Pakistan and India -- had not signed it.  In response, Mr. Titov said that, while he hoped for universal ratification, “the fact that within one year the Convention managed to get so much support and culminated in a very successful conference in Oslo today, I think we can already call it a considerable success”.

Even nations that had not signed the treaty -– which barred adherents from using, producing, selling or stockpiling cluster munitions -– were modifying their national munitions policies, he said.  In the Russian Federation, the press was focused on the issue, which was a positive first step and could lead the Russian Government to ratify the treaty later on.

Mr. Kollodge agreed, adding that widespread participation in the 1997 Mine-Ban Treaty helped stigmatize landmine use, including among countries that had not signed it.  The number of Governments using landmines had since dropped from 50 to two.  He hoped for a similar outcome with cluster munitions.  Mr. Titov added that the number of countries thought to produce anti-personnel mines was down from 54 in the early 1990s to about 12 today.

As to why many Middle Eastern countries were reluctant to sign the treaty, Mr. Titov said it was difficult to speculate on the rationale of individual nations.

As to whether donor fatigue existed for anti-mine projects, Mr. Titov said a donor gap sometimes existed for anti-mine and other humanitarian issues.  However, the world was on track to reach the goal of considerably reducing mine threats by 2011, even though all mine areas would not be cleared.

Regarding the number of casualties in Lebanon, Mr. Titov said there was a considerable number, but it was declining -- a testament to the mine-clearance efforts of the United Nations and the Lebanese Government, particularly in the southern part of the country.

Concerning the impact of the funding shortfall on programmes in Afghanistan, Mr. Porter said last year the Service’s Afghanistan programme was well funded and 89,000 landmines had been cleared.  “ Afghanistan is probably halfway now towards reaching its Oslo goals and commitments.  The next few years are very important and I think we could make great leaps forward in a very short space of time”, he said.  However, he expressed concern that the 70 per cent funding shortage for 2009 would thwart those gains, jeopardizing community-based mine-clearance projects, particularly in the south.

Concerning activities in Chechnya, Mr. Kollodge said the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had mine-education projects, but the Service did not have mine-clearance projects there.

Asked about Colombia and Venezuela, Mr. Porter said the Service did not have programmes in those two countries, but it had engaged in dialogue with their Governments and aimed to give technical and other support to help them develop national mine-action programmes.  Mr. Titov said Colombia had 895 casualties this year alone due to landmines, probably the highest casualty rate in the world, which was the main cause for concern there.

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For information media • not an official record