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Linking mine action to development: the need for generating evidence of longer-term change

With the annual UN International Mine Awareness Day on April 4, Jason Collodi and Tom Gillhespy from Itad’s Fragile and Conflict-Affected States team outline the importance of linking mine action to longer-term change.

Our recent trip to Somaliland to assess a de-mining programme was enlightening. The programme operates in the border areas with Ethiopia, at the fringes of development, where local communities receive little attention from the international community. In these contexts mine action agencies are often the sole ‘implementer’ and can play a big role in local communities – clearing and providing access to previously contaminated land; providing local employment and a source of local economic demand; and, as was explicitly expressed by one community member in Somaliland, supporting those who feel they have been ‘forgotten about’.

All these are crucial, tangible benefits of mine action. However, what is less clear is the additional longer-term development benefits that the mine action sector delivers. Areas that are cleared of mines and other Explosive Remnants of War where there is very little other external development support can potentially give good insights to how clearance can affect change over the long term and mine action’s link to wider development change. Where the context is arguably more complex, with multiple external factors and development agencies, the contribution from mine action to longer-term change can be more difficult to understand. Yet, where there is complementarity between mine action and support from other external services, the benefits from cleared land can be magnified.

As part of Itad’s M&E contract to support DFID’s Global Mine Action Programme (GMAP), a rapid review of the literature revealed relatively little robust evidence that has been generated on the link between mine action and development objectives. Nevertheless, there are some notable efforts to understand this link, such as by the UN Development Programme and Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining. Implementing agencies have also been able to collect useful data at the community level, but often this data does not cover a sufficiently long period to really understand contributions to development objectives. As there is ever-increasing scrutiny on the value and results of donor investments overseas, it seems appropriate to explore how the sector can do more to collectively generate evidence that can support our understanding of the mine action-development link.

The team is looking into what the enablers and barriers may be to generating more evidence from the implementing agencies that deliver much of the work on the ground to academic researchers who can stand back and assess the sector as a whole. We have identified barriers that are structural (i.e. donor funding doesn’t usually include budget lines for revisiting cleared areas three to five years in the future); while also highlighting a lack of consensus across the sector on whether it is the responsibility of de-mining organisations to generate such data.

This work will help us understand how we can contribute to the evidence base through our evaluative work, but also by helping others within the sector to understand how they might be able to support the generation of more evidence themselves.

Finding a way to generate the evidence that supports mine action’s understanding of how it contributes to change, whether it be on the fringe of development assistance as in remote areas of Somaliland or communities receiving multi-disciplinary assistance, is of great importance. In doing so, the mine action sector can better understand how it can contribute most effectively to development outcomes. In doing so, the sector can continue to deliver the humanitarian imperative of making people safer, while recognising its added value to contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals, through work with remote communities (‘leaving no-one behind’) – as could be the case in Somaliland – or providing a vital step in broader long-term development objectives.