FEEDBACK – The Foundation’s Talks and Debates: the links between mine clearance and economic development

Posted by: on Jun 27, 2017 | No Comments

Handicap International has been at the forefront of mine action since 1992 when it first started its mine clearance programs. In June 2015, in hopes of keeping challenging Handicap International staff members, the Foundation invited two professors to present the very first economic analysis of mine clearance.


Handicap International and the fight against landmines

In the summer of 1990, staff members at Handicap International became aware of the need to go further than just provide the appropriate care to those affected by landmines. It was especially true in countries where the NGO had been working for a long time, like Cambodia, and where the situation was nowhere near improving:  there were new amputees to assist days after days …

The way landmines work, indiscriminately killing and maiming soldiers and civilians, was particularly revolting to them … and furthermore, against international humanitarian law. According to the rules of war, armies, whether regular or not, should indeed use their weapons to gain a strategic advantage. This means they can target the other army but cannot target civilians, whose deaths is only ‘acceptable’ if it is not disproportional but unavoidable collateral damage …

Behind the cynicism of such rule, there was one major observation: landmines were not exploding on soldiers’ feet and sparing the ones of civilians; they were killing and maiming everyone… without any discrimination. This was the start of Handicap International’s fight against landmines.

Man in a turban and maimed by a landmine

One of HI’s patient in Iraqi Kurdistan, back in the 1990s © Handicap International Belgium

It was twofold: in 1992, with five other NGOs, Handicap International launched the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). Five years later, the latter received the Nobel Peace Prize, having successfully brought the issue on the agenda and contributed to the drafting, signing and ratification of the Mine Ban Treaty.

In 1992, Handicap International also launched its very first mine clearance programs, in Cambodia first, and then in Iraqi Kurdistan and Mozambique. At the time, Handicap International was the sole NGO engaged in mine clearance.

Nurturing Handicap International avant-garde spirit

The Foundation aims at stimulating debate and keeping Handicap International at the forefront of any issue animating the aid sector. Thus, in June 2017, it invited two professors from the London Business School in the framework of its Talks and Debates series.

Prof. Elias Papaioannou, an Associate Professor of Economics of the London Business School, and Dr. Giorgio Chiovelli, a recent Ph.D. graduate, who had been working on this project for years, both came to Lyon, at HI’s headquarters, to share with HI’s staff members the results of a paper, whose final version should be available in September 2017.

This paper studies the link between mine clearance and economic development, from an economic point of view, a cookie cutter approach in the field of mine action.

Taking Mozambique as a case study, a country declared mine-free in 2015, Papaioannou and Chiovelli used different techniques, among which the study of the electricity grid at night, to determine whether or not mine clearance had an impact on economic development and to what extent. Without any surprise, the impact is beneficial, and more amazingly, exponential: the more areas were cleared of landmines, the more the entire country developed economically, starting with those areas which were cleared first.

What’s also interesting in the eyes of the economists was to see how the very first actors on the ground lacked coordination when it came to mine action, and started clearing areas, which were maybe not the most interesting ones to further the economic development of the country.

HI’s staff members had at least one observation to make with regard to that last point.

The economic development of an area or a country is not what guides mine action within HI: territories are cleared on a needs-based assessment of our beneficiaries. Thus, HI is likely to clear an area of mines and other unexploded ordnances if it will greatly benefit those it aims at helping, namely the most vulnerable, and thus, without any regard for the economic development its action may or may not bring.

However, to be able to prove and quantify the impact of mine clearance on the economic development of a country was deemed helpful as it could, for instance, help convince some international institutional donors to support HI’s activities in the field of mine action.

Professor standing in front of a crowd during his speech on economic development and mine clearance

Prof. Elias Papaioannou from the London Business School during his presentation at HI’s headquarters © Sonia Zdorovtzoff / Handicap International