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As in 2019 and in 2020, Belgium is donating 2 million euros to the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) for its activities in Iraq and Syria. These funds have been used in recent years for, among others, mine clearance, risk education and victim assistance, thus contributing to alleviating the needs of the civilian population. In Iraq, for example, our contribution helped deploy mixed demining teams, with women and men. Working with these teams allows the deminers to more easily establish contact with local communities and builds trust more quickly. This is particularly important in regions such as the Sinjar, where the Yezidi minority was victim of massive and systematic sexual violence against women by the Islamic State (IS).
The need for demining in Syria and in Iraq remains high. In Syria, it is estimated that half of the population is at risk from undeclared explosive material. In Iraq, the challenges are also important. For example, in Mosul, millions of tons of war debris with explosive remnants remains, including from past wars, have not been completely cleaned up.
The impact on the lives and well-being of the population is enormous. The presence of war remnants hinders the restart of agriculture and other economic activities and the resumption of daily life. Mine action is therefore essential for post-conflict stabilization, which is necessary in Iraq and Syria to help prevent the return of IS.
In Syria, UNMAS is mainly focusing on the protection of civilians through risk education and assistance to victims. The distribution of mines is being mapped so that the focus can gradually shift to mine clearance.
In Iraq, national demining actors are already working efficiently. UNMAS is strongly committed to strengthening local actors to ensure the sustainability of results.
A gender-sensitive approach
Belgium wants a gender-sensitive mine action policy to be implemented. UNMAS pays dedicated attention to gender mainstreaming in its work, including through increased participation of women in mine clearance, which serves as an important social example. Mine action can only be truly sustainable if it is gender-sensitive and inclusive. Here it is important that the needs and perspectives of women, girls, boys and men are all considered.
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