In the department of Nariño in southwestern Colombia, people living in the municipalities of San Bernardo and El Tablón de Gómez as well as in the territory of the National Park Doña Juana- Cascabel and The Inga de Aponte Indigenous community no longer live in areas officially registered as hazardous.
The areas were recently declared free from the suspicion of landmines, unexploded ordnance, and other remnants of war by the Danish Refugee Council.
In a country marred by recurring violence, this is a big deal.
“Our humanitarian demining activities focus on contributing to the safe return of land to the community and contribute to the stabilization of fragile areas in Colombia. We have mainly focussed on assisting the Colombian mine action authority by conducting non-technical surveys to provide accurate information on the scope and nature of contamination, develop tailored strategies to prevent and reduce casualties and allow for a more effective allocation of humanitarian mine action resources through the prioritization of clearance needs,” says Juan Pablo Manriquez Moll, head of programme for Mine Action for the Danish Refugee Council in Colombia.
Yann Cornic, Country Director for DRC Colombia.
More than fifty years of violent conflict, the continued use of these devices, the persistence of the internal armed conflict in different regions, the dispersion of areas with suspected contamination in the national territory, and the lack of knowledge of the real extent of the problem, have limited the Colombian state's capacity to prevent new victims and to advance efficiently in the work of humanitarian demining.
Measured in numbers of victims, Colombia is one of the countries in the world that are affected the most by landmines, unexploded ordnance, and other remnants of war – second only to Afghanistan. This creates serious obstacles to durable peace and opportunities for socio-economic development in the country.
According to the national authority - Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz - Colombia recorded more than 12,000 victims of explosive ordnance as of 31 August 2021, 103 of them in 2021 alone. As in most other conflicts, it is civilians that bear the brunt.
Humanitarian Disarmament and Peacebuilding (HDP) has recently been established as one of DRC’s five core sectors. The sector covers what has until now mainly been the programmatic focus of DRC’s technical unit Danish Demining Group (DDG).
Zully is one of many female deminers working in DRC. The meaningful work makes the community safer, and also means that Zully can be a breadwinner for her family and be a role model for other women.
The Danish Refugee Council has been present in Colombia since 2011 with a focus on demining and supporting conflict-affected populations in the country. As of July 2021, the Danish Refugee Council has investigated two municipalities, one National Park and one Indigenous community covering 396 million m2 of Nariño department and declared them as areas free of suspected explosives.
“Humanitarian demining, in addition to being a life-saving activity, is also a way to return land and provide confidence to the community. As a result of five decades of war there is suspicion and fear of the existence of mines in various territories of the country,” says Yann Cornic, Country Director for the Danish Refugee Council in Colombia.
“Helping to confront fear and restore confidence seems to me to be essential so that these rural communities, for whom their territories are not only their home but also their livelihood, can reactivate and build socio-economic development plans.”
The declaration of the areas in the department of Nariño as free from suspicion of landmines, unexploded ordnance, and other remnants of war was marked with a ceremony including speeches by the mayor of the municipality of San Bernardo, the Secretary of Government and mayor of the municipality of Tablón de Gómez, the Governor of the Inga de Aponte Indigenous community, the Head of Mine Action Programme of DRC Colombia and the presidents of the Community Action Boards of the municipalities.
These were followed by a Mine Risk Education session, reading and signing of minutes, delivery of recognition plaques, and an artistic presentation performed by the dance group of the school where the event took place.
The DRC Mine Action programme in Colombia and all its activities in this area of the country are implemented thanks to the financial support of the U.S. Department of State PM/WRA.