U.S. support for land mine removal saves lives

Several years ago, with peace talks underway in Colombia, Julián finally returned home after fleeing the violence that plagued his hometown of Campamento. However, explosives left behind prevent the 52-year-old farmer from safely growing crops on parts of his land.

The HALO Trust, a U.S. partner organization that removes land mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO), will begin clearing mines from Julián’s property this year. The farm is one of four minefields HALO has identified in Campamento.

“We will be able to walk around peacefully, grow food and earn a living,” Julián, who lost his brother to a pipe bomb in the early 2000s, says in the U.S. State Department’s To Walk the Earth in Safety (TWEIS) report issued April 4. “That will really change my life, and I will finally feel at peace.”

Man standing in front of mine warning sign (The HALO Trust)
Julián stands near a sign marking explosive hazards on his property. (The HALO Trust)

The 21st edition of the TWEIS report highlights mine-removal efforts in 2021, when U.S. contributions exceeded $265 million and supported removal efforts in 62 countries. In addition to surveying land and clearing mines, U.S. partner organizations conduct safety training and secure small arms and light weapons at risk of falling into the hands of terrorists, criminals and insurgents.

In 2021, U.S. partners:

  • Destroyed more than 25,000 anti-personnel and anti-tank mines.
  • Destroyed more than 2,500 metric tons of munitions and 267,781 rounds of small-arms ammunition.
  • Returned more than 140 million square meters of land for safe and productive use.
Three people standing amid vegetation (The HALO Trust)
Julián talks to surveyors in Campamento, Colombia. (The HALO Trust)

Cumulatively, since 1993, the United States has contributed more than $4.2 billion to conventional weapons destruction in more than 100 countries and territories, making it the world’s largest donor to conventional weapons destruction.

In announcing the report’s release April 4, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Jenkins said the United States is committed to working with host governments, implementing partners and communities on conventional weapons of destruction, noting the effort has enjoyed bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress for 25 years.

Removing explosive hazards not only saves lives but boosts economic opportunity and food security in communities recovering from conflict.

Woman with two children standing on hillside near grazing goats (The HALO Trust)
Ghalia, seen with two of her grandchildren, makes money herding goats in a mountainous area of rural Yemen. (The HALO Trust)

In Yemen, U.S. mine removal allows Ghalia, 50, and her family to safely herd goats, despite explosive hazards in the hills surrounding their home. In September 2021, HALO found unexploded ordnance in Ghalia’s community, including two bombs used to prop up a fence.

HALO teams have since clearly marked danger zones so Ghalia’s family can safely graze livestock. They have also educated locals on the risks of unexploded ordnance.

“Our successes are not just about things such as landmines, UXO, and small arms. The top priority for the U.S. conventional weapons destruction program is people,” Jenkins said April 4. “The American taxpayer can be proud to assist in this accomplishment.”