Firoz Alizada, Campaign Manager, International Campaign to Ban Landmines
During my visit to Dushanbe, Tajikistan in April 2013, I met with several mine action operators including NGOs, the government and the UN. I learned that much of the land that used to be contaminated by landmines and explosive remnants of war, including cluster munition, remnants has been released, and as of January 2013 only around 7.5km2 of land remained contaminated with landmines. It is believed that if the demining operations were maintained with the current capacity, Tajikistan would be free of landmines around 2016-17, if not sooner.
One of the concerns Tajikistan had about finishing by its new deadline of 1 April 2020 or earlier was the possibility of contamination on its border with Uzbekistan, but to date there is no evidence of landmine contamination on the Tajikistan side. Four districts on the border with Uzbekistan have been surveyed, and it was determined that only one out of 63 mine accidents had occurred on the Tajik side. This incident was most likely caused by a mine that had rolled down a mountain into Tajik territory – no additional landmines were found at the accident site itself. Indeed, there have been no landmine incidents during the past four years along the Tajik-Uzbek border.
When Tajikistan was granted an extension to its request for clearance in 2009 for a period of 10 years, there was less demining capacity than today. For example, after Tajikistan was granted the extension NPA started its operations with significant clearance capacity, advanced demining machines were acquired, and mine detection dog capacity was supplied. Given these additional resources, Tajikistan has the capacity to finish clearance before the new 2020 deadline, which it was encouraged to do by States Parties in the decision on its request.
In parallel to demining work, UNDP has been working to hand over the Tajikistan Mine Action Center (TMAC), which operates as a de facto UNDP project, to the government of Tajikistan. The government of Tajikistan has expressed interest in taking over TMAC but to date hasn’t taken concrete action in this regard.
On 28 May 2013, during the annual intersessional meeting of the Mine Ban Treaty, Tajikistan reported that up to 6km² of the current 7.2km² of contaminated land would be released by the end of 2015. This means that by remaining contamination will have been reduce to around 1.2km² of land, which can be released within one to two years maximum depending on post-2015 resources.
Given this small amount of known contaminated land that remains to be released, the best approach would be to put all efforts into clearing minefields and to ensure that the transition to national ownership of TMAC should not slow down or affect clearance operations. In addition, once clearance of landmines and cluster munition remnants is finished, Tajikistan should consider transferring capacity for residual problems with mines and explosive remnants of war to an existing government agency for long-term sustainability. For example, the Ministry of Defence of Tajikistan has been engaged in demining operations for the past several years, so there are already some capacities within this ministry to deal with residual problems in future.
Some demining operators may be facing a funding shortage after 2015 that could possibly jeopardize the continuation of their operations. Therefore, it is vital that the government of Tajikistan engages with donors to ensure continued funding until clearance is completed. Tajikistan is so close. The goal should be for the donors to ensure the job gets finished, before they stop funding!