Landmine Monitor 2000

Mine Awareness

Mine Awareness, or Mine and Unexploded Ordnance Awareness Education (MAE) as it is otherwise known, is, in its purest form, a community-level education program that seeks to provide (or generate) viable alternatives to high-risk behavior to populations living or working in, or travelling through, mine-affected areas.[20] It works best on the basis of two-way information exchange, learning from communities how they survive the daily threat of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO), and working cooperatively to identify how the risk of death and injury can be minimized. Mine awareness is frequently confused with public information about the effects of mines and UXO. Such information campaigns are extremely valuable but do not in a strict sense constitute mine/UXO awareness programs.

In fact, the term “mine awareness” is a bit of a misnomer since the need for community education applies to all unexploded devices, including booby-traps, cluster bomblets and other UXO, not just antipersonnel and antitank mines. Moreover, it is less frequent than one might expect that people are “unaware” of the danger of mines. In many situations,[21] people know or suspect that an area is mined but go into or through it intentionally. The reasons for this are various: curiosity or adventure seeking, a feeling of invincibility or inevitability, or in most cases just economic or survival pressures. If the alternative to entering the mined field or forest is starvation, community members must sooner or later run the gauntlet of death and serious injury. Seen in this light, the tendency to transfer information such as “don’t go!” or “don’t touch!” from the “experts” to the “unknowing” is likely to enjoy little success.

Key Actors

Among international organizations (IOs) and NGOs, the main players operationally are Handicap International (HI),[22] the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Mines Advisory Group (MAG), Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and Rädda Barnen. There are a substantial number of other international and local NGOs involved in implementing mine awareness programs. Within the UN system, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is the focal point and leading actor; the New York office of the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has a person dedicated to mine awareness.

Country Coverage

There are currently mine awareness programs of varying size and effectiveness in at least the following countries and areas: Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Colombia, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, northern Iraq, Kosovo, Laos, Lebanon, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Yemen. Local or small-scale initiatives are also running in Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia (Abkhazia), Swaziland, and Uganda, among others.

But despite this seemingly impressive list of mine awareness programs (MAPs), Landmine Monitor researchers have identified a number of other places where mine awareness may be needed. These include Burundi, Chad, Chechnya, Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo,[23] the Golan Heights,[24] Jordan,[25] Iran,[26] Burma (Myanmar),[27] and Vietnam.[28] Of course, feasibility studies have to be carried out to confirm whether or not a program in a given context is needed and can be safely and effectively implemented in the prevailing circumstances.[29]

A number of new mine awareness programs are in the process of being initiated. Following the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon, a number of NGOs, including Save the Children Sweden and Save the Children US, were preparing to implement programs in the former security zone, as landmines continued to claim victims.[30] On the other hand, in Sri Lanka, the UN Development Program (UNDP) mine awareness program in Jaffna was suspended in April 2000 because of the upsurge in fighting on the peninsula.

Needs Assessment

Any MAP should be initiated with a detailed needs assessment as set out in the International Guidelines on Mine and UXO Awareness Education Programs adopted by the UN system in May 1999.[31] The appropriate needs assessment is the responsibility of each and every organization operationally involved in mine awareness.[32] Sadly, such assessments have frequently not been done well,[33] and sometimes not at all.[34] Without baseline data, it is almost impossible to plan an effective communication strategy that reaches those in danger with messages and techniques that are both culturally appropriate and targeted to the specific risk behavior. Thus, a needs assessment for mine awareness should consider the severity of the problem from a humanitarian point of view, analyze high-risk behavior and groups, and identify linguistic, cultural or logistical factors that will influence the success of a potential MAP.[35]

There are times when a MAP has been initiated primarily because funding was available, notwithstanding the actual needs of the country or region. Kosovo is an example where, while clearly mine awareness is needed, funding availability may have led to excess, relative to needs in other locations. Once the ethnic Albanian refugees returned to the province, a plethora of NGOs became involved in mine awareness programs.[36] By early spring 2000, organizations involved in mine awareness still numbered around a dozen, potentially making Kosovo the most “mine aware” region in the world.

In terms of operational focus, many mine awareness programs concentrate the bulk of time and resources on school children, even though they may form only a small percentage of the number of mine victims,[37] and are potentially at limited risk in many contexts. In Croatia, for instance, considerable funding has been directed to conducting mine awareness in schools even though no children were killed by mines in 1999 and only three out of the total of fifty-one victims (i.e., killed and injured) were children.[38] Researchers noted a similar focus in Laos and Vietnam, despite available data demonstrating that other target groups were far more in need of preventive education.


Concern remains as to the pedagogical basis for much of the methodology used to implement MAPs around the world. Although often advertised as “community-based,” “participatory,” “interactive,” or employing “child-to-child” techniques, it appears that the typical mine awareness program relies on one-way presentations and/or mass media to get its message across. Such an approach takes little notice of the skills and knowledge already existing in the community, frequently fails to target those most at risk, and is unlikely to have anything other than a negligible long-term impact on casualty rates.[39]

Most mine awareness resources tend to be devoted to the production and dissemination of various communications media, such as television/video, radio, posters, T-shirts, and comic books. According to the Landmine Monitor researcher for Rwanda, as much as US $100,000 has been spent on airing mine awareness messages on Rwandan radio, an astonishing amount in such a small country.[40] Yet, the effectiveness of these media approaches is open to question. In March 2000, UNICEF announced its intention to commission a multi-country study of mine awareness media and messages from the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining; as of this writing, the study has not yet been initiated. An HI study on lessons learned using mine-risk education tools in six countries is eagerly awaited.

Most attention, however, has been focused on the Superman comic book, with concerns being widely expressed as to both its technical accuracy and cultural appropriateness. The comic book has apparently been used to advantage as one of a number of media items in Guatemala but overall the reaction has been extremely negative.[41] As a result, the original version produced for Bosnia-Herzegovina has now been withdrawn from distribution; a Spanish version was not distributed in Colombia;[42] and a version planned for Mozambique appears to have been shelved, at least for now. Independent testing of the Superman comic book in Kosovo concluded that it was suitable for children in the 10-14 age group but not for children in the 7-9 age group, who might infer incorrect and dangerous messages. A controlled distribution in the classroom for the elder age group was recommended as part of the school mine awareness education curriculum. At the beginning of June 2000, the ICBL sent a letter to UNICEF Executive Director, Carol Bellamy, to formally “request UNICEF to openly address the cultural and technical concerns” raised by the Superman comic book.

Consonant with a frequent preoccupation to protect children from landmines and UXO, “child-to-child” training entered the mine awareness vocabulary with a vengeance in 1999, with a number of organizations claiming to be incorporating “child-to-child” methodology into their awareness programs, most notably in Kosovo.[43] In a number of instances, though, it seems that the component was actually little more than “kids teaching other kids,” a far cry from the participatory methodology delineated by the Child to Child Trust in London which developed the concept.[44] Yet in a context where teaching is typically authoritarian and learning is by rote, child to child techniques can be liberating and empowering both for the children and for their teachers; they are, however, labor intensive as training can take a considerable time.

But more participatory mine awareness is being practiced as well as preached in a number of countries. The ICRC implements well-thought-out community level mine awareness programs in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Kosovo, each with an integral data-gathering element that assists in the national mine action coordination process; in Kosovo the communities themselves decide on their local mine awareness volunteer whose task is to pass on valuable information to the community and also update the regional mine awareness teams with relevant information on incidents or discoveries of mines or cluster bomblets.

Data Gathering and Analysis, Integration and Coordination

As the mine action community begins to recognize the role of socio-economic data and analysis in planning mine action programs, it is clear that mine awareness should be looking to exploit its comparative advantages. In its capacity as a community-level initiative, mine awareness should, in theory at least, generate a large amount of precious quantitative and qualitative data that can help to prioritize mine clearance and marking, identify unfulfilled needs for mine victim assistance,[45] and provide information in support of the prohibition of anti-personnel mines and its implementation.

Community mapping exercises, for instance, involve a community liaison officer working with different target groups to elicit the impact of mines and UXO on daily life and identify existing community approaches and coping mechanisms. This data can help in the prioritization of other mine action tasks. In this regard, Kosovo is possibly the first time that mine awareness teams have been able to provide direct input into the prioritization process, thanks to the weekly mine action meetings held in the different KFOR sectors around the province. But the need to strengthen the IMSMA component on mine awareness is clear—this was one of the recommendations by ICBL to the March 2000 SCE meeting mentioned below.

Training and Staff Selection

In 1999 and early 2000, UNICEF was instrumental in developing pre-service training modules for both mine awareness program managers and community mine awareness facilitators. This is seemingly the first time that such comprehensive training packages have been prepared. Although primarily aimed at UNICEF programs and program managers, they have a much wider validity. It is intended that regional training workshops be held over the next two years—this process in itself should succeed in widening the net of available expertise, thereby strengthening competence.

Allied to training is the issue of staff selection which is of obvious importance, especially for the community mine awareness facilitators who will be the direct link with the community. In the past, there was a tendency to favor people with a military or technical background. It is clear, however, that this can be counter-productive as mine experts can rarely resist the temptation to show off how much they know about weapons. Thus, in Kosovo, KFOR has been implementing a “soldier to child” program in schools around the province; the UN Mine Action Coordination Center has been trying to end this practice. In Laos, as well as other countries, U.S. Army Psychological Operations personnel have been involved in training mine awareness teams; it is at least questionable how appropriate such a military-style approach is to a community liaison program such as mine awareness. In the words of the Landmine Monitor researcher for Nicaragua, “soldiers aren’t teachers.”

Monitoring and Evaluation

Given the amount of funding poured into mine awareness (estimated to be between US $5 million and US $10 million each year), it is somewhat surprising that donors have not been more insistent on being shown substantive proof of efficacy.[46] To date, operational efficiency and effectiveness has largely been evidenced by the quantity of posters printed and the number of individuals “briefed” or “reached.” Although valuable information for the program manager in and of itself, this tells little of the extent to which behavior has been changed or safety information learned and internalized.

Likewise, the mine action community at large (especially organizations involved in mine clearance) need to be shown that not only is there a genuine role for mine awareness within mine action, but that the role is an essential one, enhancing the effectiveness of the other three “pillars” of mine action: mine clearance (including survey and marking), mine victim assistance, and mine ban advocacy.

Organizations are beginning to realize the importance of evaluating the worth of MAPs. UNICEF has commissioned detailed evaluations of its mine awareness programs in Angola and Cambodia, for example, and future evaluations are planned in Ethiopia and Laos; in 1997, a national evaluation of mine awareness in Afghanistan was conducted by the Canadian organization, CIET; and Rädda Barnen has begun an evaluation of the program it supports in Yemen, and an internal evaluation of mine awareness in schools in Bosnia-Herzegovina is planned to take place in the fall of 2000. However many programs simply carry over from year to year with little attempt to be accountable to the communities they claim to serve. With a view to developing international guidelines for the monitoring and evaluation of mine awareness programs, as recommended by ICBL and requested by the Standing Committee of Experts on Victim Assistance, Socio-Economic Reintegration and Mine Awareness in March 2000, UNICEF is planning to circulate a first draft before the end of 2000 prior to a large-scale technical consultation on the issue in 2001.[47]

Future Challenges

The overall challenge for 2001 is to speed up the tortuously slow process of professionalizing mine awareness. This demands commitment on the part of all organizations involved—none has much cause for complacency.

HI’s study of lessons learnt in mine-risk education programs in six countries should give a useful indication of possible reorientation in mine awareness. Within the context of mine action, ICBL’s call for UNMAS to study the integration of mine awareness and victim assistance should be speedily acted upon. UNICEF, for its part, has spent considerable effort in ensuring the adoption of international guidelines for mine awareness and the preparation of training modules to effectively operationalize the guidelines. Guidance on how to monitor and evaluate mine awareness and how to field-test materials, media and messages would be extremely beneficial, as would minimum international standards for mine awareness programs and the accreditation of competent organizations.

It appears that mine awareness programs may be needed in Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Golan Heights, Jordan, Iran, Burma (Myanmar), and Vietnam; where they do not exist, in-depth needs assessments should be undertaken by competent agencies at the earliest possible juncture. Finally, efforts must continue to try to strengthen coordination and integration with the other pillars of mine action and other emergency or developmental activities, such as water and sanitation, food security initiatives, or HIV/AIDS education programs. The days of the stand-alone mine awareness program must surely be numbered.

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[20] The term also includes programs or briefings for humanitarian field staff working in mine-affected countries. In this regard, UNMAS and CARE International are preparing a field handbook intended for concerned non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and United Nations staff.
[21] Refugee/IDP situations tend to be an exception.
[22] According to Hugues Laurenge in HI France, HI implements or supports “mine-risk education” in eight countries: Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ethiopia (in the border refugee camps along the border with northern Somalia), Kosovo, Mozambique, Senegal, and Thailand (in refugee camps along the borders with Cambodia and Burma. He states that all of these programs include data-gathering, the use of media tools and instruction. Email correspondence of 15 June 2000.
[23] An UNMAS assessment mission is planned for the DRC if and when the security situation improves.
[24] A proposal for a local mine awareness program in the Golan Heights has been drafted by the Ramullah-based NGO, Al Haq.
[25] A “child-to-child” program is apparently planned for the country. See Landmine Monitor Report 2000—Jordan.
[26] An UNMAS assessment mission was originally planned for Iran in 2000 although it now appears that this will not take place.
[27] Somewhat strangely, the local Red Cross society claims that a mine awareness program is not necessary both because there have been no victims (clearly an inaccurate statement) and because peace deals have been signed with most of the insurgents pitted against the military regime in the country. Information provided by Landmine Monitor researcher for Burma (Myanmar).
[28] Although a national needs assessment for mine awareness has not been carried out in the country, there have already been local and international mine awareness initiatives in certain provinces, and the Landmine Monitor researcher for Vietnam firmly believes that mine awareness should be carried out in all provinces.
[29] For example, UNMAS conducted an assessment mission to Sierra Leone in February 2000 and concluded that the limited mine and UXO problem did not justify a nationwide awareness campaign. See the UNMAS home page, <>, for a copy of the mission report.
[30] Kananfani, S., “NGOs race to alert South to peril of mines,” Daily Star, 1 June 2000.
[31] For example, UNICEF conducted a needs assessment mission for mine awareness in Chad in June 2000.
[32] Obviously needs assessments can be carried out jointly; indeed, often this is the most effective way to proceed.
[33] In this regard, it is not enough even for locally-based organizations to assert that they know who needs mine awareness training; without systematic information gathering, a program is unlikely to accurately target those most at risk.
[34] For example, Colombia and Croatia still have not undertaken a needs assessment for mine awareness; nor apparently has Afghanistan, which has one of the longest running mine awareness programs. Information provided by Landmine Monitor researchers for Afghanistan, Colombia and Croatia.
[35] Of course, agencies should always be alert to the danger of “over-surveying.” The community should be considered a partner, not a guinea pig. In a number of places, such as Kosovo, mine victims are tired of being asked the same questions time after time by different organizations and different journalists.
[36] Mine awareness, as with other mine action programs in Kosovo, is coordinated by the UN Mine Action Co-ordination Center, which requires all implementing organizations to follow its Best Practice Guidelines for Mine/UXO Awareness Activities, based on the International Guidelines for Mine and Unexploded Ordnance Awareness Education developed by UNICEF on behalf of the United Nations system.
[37] Such is not the case where contamination is largely unexploded ordnance, especially cluster bomblets; here, children are often 50% or more of the total number of victims.
[38] Information provided by the Landmine Monitor researcher for Croatia, 15 May 2000.
[39] Indeed, mine awareness badly done is worse than useless, it is potentially life-threatening. Particular concerns were expressed about mine awareness messages being disseminated in Colombia, that could encourage children to move around mined areas. Information provided by Diana Roa Castro, Landmine Monitor researcher for Colombia.
[40] The choice of radio as the main media for disseminating mine awareness messages appears sound, though, as it is the most popular means of communication in the country, and there are no local languages to impede understanding. Information provided by the Landmine Monitor researcher for Rwanda.
[41] Information provided by Landmine Monitor Researcher for Guatemala, 16 May 2000.
[42] The decision not to distribute the comic book in Colombia followed a letter from the Colombian Campaign to Ban Landmines to the UNICEF Representative in Bogotá. Information provided by Diana Roa Castro, Landmine Monitor Researcher, 16 May 2000.
[43] Concerns have also been expressed about so-called “child-to-child” mine awareness in Colombia. Information provided by Diana Roa Castro, Landmine Monitor researcher for Colombia.
[44] Child-to-child programs, that were developed as a more participatory alternative to public health education, give children the opportunity to explore subjects without the framework of the traditionally authoritarian and disempowering methods of teaching practiced in many countries around the world. In child-to-child initiatives, the teacher is involved more as a facilitator to guide the learning process than the central fulcrum around whom all wisdom revolves. Training teachers and instructors in these methods is a time-consuming (and therefore expensive) procedure. For details of the Child-to-Child Trust work on landmines see for instance Land Mine Awareness, an activity sheet available from its offices in London: Child-to-Child Trust, Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL, United Kingdom, Tel: (+44-207) 612 6648; Fax: (+44-207) 612 6645; E-mail:
[45] The mine awareness program in Yemen supported by Rädda Barnen (Save the Children Sweden) has begun a pilot project using the national Mine Awareness Association to conduct a survey on mine victims and their needs.
[46] To counter the assertion sometimes made, for instance, that the best mine awareness is a mine incident.
[47] UNICEF contribution to Landmine MonitorReport 2000—Appendices.