The Guardian March 13, 2002


Clearing a path through the UN

by Paul Donovan

A landmines clearance charity that offered to deploy mine clearers at short 
notice to work in Afghanistan has been told by the British Department of 
International Development to go through the United Nations.

Recognising the desperate need to clear landmines, cluster bombs and 
unexploded ordnance from Afghanistan, the British-based office of the 
charity Cameo offered to immediately deploy 65 landmine clearance 
specialists.

Before mine-clearance programs stopped in September, over 85 square miles 
of land had been cleared, but another 280 square miles remained mine-
infested.

Since then, as a result of US bombing raids, 1150 cluster bombs have been 
dropped on 188 locations.

Thinking that the Department for International Development would be keen to 
use their proven services, given the now urgent need to clear Afghanistan 
of unexploded ordnance, Cameo was surprised to be referred to the UN mine 
action service.

The referral is in line with the Department's latest crazy policy decision 
to channel all demining funds through the UN.

Not only will the Department's annual budget of 10 million pounds be 
administered through the UN but so will an additional 3 million pounds 
allocated specifically for landmine clearance activities in Afghanistan.

The problem with going via the UN is that the organisation creams off a 14 
per cent handling charge for all funds.

The knock-on effect of this decision is that 420,000 pounds intended to 
help clear Afghanistan of landmines, cluster bombs and unexploded ordnance 
will now go on keeping UN bureaucrats in the air-conditioned lifestyle to 
which they have become accustomed.

On the ground in Afghanistan, next to nothing seems to have happened in 
terms of landmine clearance, with latest reports indicating that the only 
action taken has been by the French army, which destroyed 70,000 landmines 
found stored at Kabul airport.

The UN might be a little miffed that, as a result of the US bombing raids, 
some 8 million pounds of demining equipment has been destroyed. Maybe the 
Department for International Development will meet the bill?

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Morning Star, Britain's left daily

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