Greening Mine Action in Armenia


By Vaghinak Sargsyan

Director of the Center for Humanitarian Demining and Expertise, Vaghinak Sargsyan, outlines recent initiatives and successes in mine action in Armenia.

Landmine and explosive remnant of war (ERW) contamination exists in many countries, including Armenia. Such contamination poses a threat to civilians and the future economic development of affected countries.

The landmine problem in Armenia arose as a result of the long-term conflict with Azerbaijan, affecting four out of 11 regions in Armenia. The contamination covers an area of more than 42km2, while there are some 805 registered victims of landmine and ERW incidents.

Furthermore, among the 120,000 Karabakh Armenians who were forcibly displaced in September and October 2023 and have since resided in Armenia, more than 700 are also recognized as victims of landmines and ERWs. Many of them find themselves in a socially vulnerable state.

Consequences of Landmine and ERW Contamination

Areas contaminated with anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, cluster munitions, and other remnants of war present a threat to the residents of the country, impeding free movement, the construction of communications, the cultivation of lands, the implementation of various social and economic programs in affected areas, and endangering residents’ health. This causes a chain reaction disrupting the sustainable development of the economy.

Some victims’ inability to work as a result of their injuries can lead to moral and psychological problems, and they inadvertently become a “socially depressed stratum”. Psychologically they see themselves as a “bother” for their families because of their inability to work, and they need to be reintegrated into society. At the same time, mine victims need financial and economic support from the country, posing an additional burden for any government.

Mine action is an important activity for any country with contaminated areas. It is imperative to increase the efficiency of such work, to organize clearance and land release activities in a short time frame, to set targeted priorities for the areas to be cleared, to raise awareness among the population and promote behavioral change, to carry out harmonious and interconnected activities for targeted and coordinated victim assistance, and to facilitate the implementation of various socio-economic programs enabled by the clearance process.

Mine action cannot be exclusively just a professional function in narrow terms and cannot operate on the principle of “clearance for clearance’s sake”. It should operate in the context of socio-economic programs within other social programs implemented by the state, local self-governing authorities, and international institutions.

Landmine and ERW affected areas of Armenia, including contamination and victim statistics, © CHDE

The Center for Humanitarian Demining and Expertise

Armenia’s Center for Humanitarian Demining and Expertise (CHDE) has long been conducting research on the aforementioned issues in cooperation with the UN Development Programme, World Food Programme, and UNICEF. A number of pilot projects were jointly developed and implemented aiming to find the optimal solutions to these issues. Currently, the mine action sector in Armenia works within a complex but innovative landscape. It is not only about what we do, but also how we and our partners translate the results of our joint work into long-term socio-economic and environmental benefits for communities and people by introducing capacities, assets, new systems, and experience.

These include complex issues related to the sector, including cooperation with public institutions, the private sector, international entities, and local and international NGOs, as well as setting priorities, collecting and managing information, conducting clearance operations, risk education and behavioral change, victim assistance, and involving victims in the risk education process. This thereby contributes to their reintegration into society, environmental protection, international cooperation, innovative approaches, and the application of artificial intelligence in analysis and planning activities. The process forms a roadmap that will mitigate and in most cases solve the problems caused by landmines and ERW contamination with both great efficiency and in a short time frame.

Within the scope of these programs, the CHDE coordinates with local self-governing authorities of contaminated regions, as well as with local and international organizations, to implement various social, economic, and support programs to create an informative working base or “network”. During this coordinated work, certain activities are carried out in the prioritized communities (and, in time, in all communities) thanks to complex cost-benefit planning. These activities include the final survey of contaminated areas, development of clearance activities and socio-economic programs, clearance of contaminated areas from landmines and ERW, handover of these areas to communities, implementation of socio-economic programs, and monitoring and analysis of overall activities including residual risks.

“Green Labels” are given to areas of land cleared of landmine and ERW hazards, and which are ready for “purposeful use”, © CHDE

Greening Mine Action

With this approach, the CHDE prioritizes defining the landmine and ERW problem not only in narrow terms of the number of affected communities or the size of contaminated areas, but also in terms of the impact of landmines and ERWs. In other words, the CHDE emphasizes the importance of social, economic, behavioral, and environmental impacts on people and communities in the context of sustainable development, land release, and environmental protection. This transformation not only leads to major improvements in the quality of mine action, but also facilitates the integration of mine action within the broader field of post-conflict recovery and development. We call it “Greening Mine Action”, and it consists of three stages.

Stage 1: Design a Monitoring System of Contaminated Areas

This stage consists of the short-term and long-term monitoring of contaminated areas, known as pre-clearance and post-clearance. Confirmed hazardous areas are cleared by both technical survey and land release activities, and explosive ordnance risk education is conducted among the local population.

Stage 2: Assessment of Socio-Economic, Behavioral, and Environmental Impacts

This stage includes socio-economic impact analyses, including the identification of food security components, assessment of behavioral change, and activities to eliminate the impact of landmines and ERWs on the environment.

Stage 3: Victim Assistance 

This stage includes monitoring and updating landmine and ERW victim data, conducting needs assessments and priority setting, social reintegration of victims, and assisting with solving individual primary problems.

Since 2022, in the framework of the Greening Mine Action initiative, the CHDE has implemented pilot projects in cooperation with a number of UN programs in Davit Bek and Vorotan settlements, Syunik region, Sotk and Geghamasar settlements, Gegharkunik region, Jermuk and Kechut settlements, and Vayots Dzor region. As a result, an analytical-operational program on the socio-economic impact of contaminated areas has been created.

A number of activities have been implemented within this framework. These have included conducting clearance operations according to the “do no harm” principle and providing “Green Label” certification to cleared areas, implementing economic projects such as irrigation systems, greenhouse farming, and grassland restoration, expanding explosive risk education among schoolchildren and teachers, and expanding targeted social programs to support victims and their family members.   

As a result of “Greening Mine Action”, new links of cooperation have been established and strengthened between state and local self-governing authorities of Armenia and international institutions. Innovative approaches are being used and the ground is being prepared for the full and effective implementation of international humanitarian programs in Armenia.

The CHDE has been conducting “Greening Mine Action” in cooperation with a number of United Nations programs, © CHDE

Stable Economic Development of Armenia

To ensure its effective duration, great importance is attached to the dynamic and systematic development of CHDE capacities. It also includes formal and informal learning, cooperation with international organizations, and forming a network of partnerships while organizing and implementing the activities.

The Advisory Group established for these purposes consists of representatives of national and international organizations, UN offices operating in Armenia, the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD), and other organizations. This Advisory Group supports the Center and gives consultation on solving the most important issues in applying and introducing the latest tools and technologies. Furthermore, the Advisory Group supports the CHDE and other stakeholders with non-binding strategic advice, professional experience, knowledge, and contacts not readily available elsewhere.  

The efforts of the CHDE have already established green shoots of recovery through surveys and professional activities that serve as a basis for “Greening Mine Action” where green equates to safety and development. The challenge is how these green shoots of really great potential can be translated into long-term socio-economic and environmental benefits for people, communities, and the country.

Any statements made in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team of CBNW Magazine or NCT Consultants.

Vaghinak Sargsyan is the Director of the “Center for Humanitarian Demining and Expertise” SNCO.

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