16 were the mine-related casualties recorded in 2015. Mines in Bosnia still claim lives two decades after the end of the conflict, although the Slovenian ITF Enhancing Human Security has been trying to heal the wounds left by the war since 1998.
The break-up of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia plunged the nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in a bitter ethnic conflict between 1992-1995. While a truce was stipulated at the Dayton Agreement 20 years ago under UN resolution, Bosnia still experiences political instability and remains the most heavily mined country in Europe.
According to the Bosnia Herzegovina Mine Action Center (BH MAC), more than 1,700 people have been involved in a land mine accident, nearly 600 of which have died. As of 2015, it is estimated that some 120,000 mines and cluster munitions remain scattered from the war in 9,185 identified hazardous areas (endangering 1,400 civilian communities) and impacting 1,176km2 (nearly 2,3%) of Bosnian soil.
As I have had the chance to see in person during a field trip organized by ITF Enhancing Human Security, a non-profit humanitarian organization, the presence of mines poses a daily threat to the lives and activities of civilians in populated areas such as Gorazde (95km south of Sarajevo) where demining is conducted mostly by private companies in collaboration with NGO’s. While BiH Armed Forces and the Civil Protection Agency are present and hold over 60% of the demining equipment, commercial companies such as DOK-ING, POINT, UEM D.O.O (among several others) are considered highly efficient for the task.
However, such non-public demining activities rely primarily on foreign funds.
One of the most relevant entities that sources and implements funding in Bosnia comes from ITF involved in Bosnian demining since 1998 and collaborates closely with BH MAC among other governmental authorities. ITF has woven an international community of public and private donors that have raised 200 million USD over the past 18 years in Bosnia alone. Through them, ITF has and can continue to actively co-manage projects with companies and local municipalities in 2,329 locations. As of today, ITF has been able to demine 75 km2 of contaminated land, removing 21,000 mines and 18,000 UXO’s (unexploded ordinance).
The organization has maintained a key role also in awareness raising, advocacy, risk education, capacity building (miner training), destruction of surplus weapons, and has provided medical rehabilitation treatment and assistance for over 820 mine victims. As ITF Director, Ambassador Damjan Bergant, recently stated: “I think in the last two years we have been successful in raising awareness in Bosnia” although; “we still have problems of demining close to habited centers”. The NGO has made it its mission to assist mine accident survivors and their families, both financially and psychologically, until their reintegration into society.
In spite of the financial support Bosnia is receiving the shortcoming of funding remains a concern especially if the progress of demining wants to be accelerated in order to achieve (although unlikely) the complete removal of mines in Bosnia by 2019, as stipulated by BiH National Mine Action Strategy treaty in collaboration with the UNDP. Sasa Obradovic from BH MAC says that the country needs about 40m euros ($54m) per year to fully clear mines—a goal that is yet to be reached.
Furthermore, the logistics involved in demining require a lengthy procedure, which contributes to why hazardous terrain is reduced at an average yearly rate of only 1 or 2km2. According to a 2015 UNDP evaluation it still remains difficult to quantitatively measure the “exact extent of the [mine detection] problem” without “more efficient non-technical survey and technical survey procedures”. The hilly topography of Bosnia also impedes the frequent use of remote controlled devices to carry out operations at reduced risk, such that the majority of demining work is done through a time-consuming, although more accurate, manual procedure. In my observation at a practice demining operation with ITF I noticed that most deminers were old veterans. A project manager working with BH MAC confessed that a lack of incentives, adequate pay (a deminer is given a pension of roughly 50 euros), and training could lead to a decline of the work force in the near future. The process of mine transportation to detonations locations once extracted demands additional costs as well.
It is clear that the removal of mines on Bosnian territory remains one of the country’s most pressing concerns. Not only does it constitute a humanitarian problem but it is also a hindering factor for the economic, touristic and social development of Bosnia as woodlands and villages continue to be littered with mines.
This is a tragedy that the world cannot forget and the issue should be dealt as a long-term European and international priority, as it is unacceptable that still as of today antipersonnel landmines banned by the Ottawa Convention continue to be a permanent risk in the heart of the European continent.