International Support Group (ISG) Meeting
Address by Mr. Robert Watkins,
United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative
International Support Group (ISG) Meeting
Tamar Rotana, Beirut
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honored to be with you this evening on the occasion of the 3rd meeting of the International Support Group and to see such continued strong recognition of the importance of supporting mine action in Lebanon and the region reflected in your attendance.
While we all know too well that land mines, cluster munitions and other forms of UXO continue to cause enormous human and economic cost in countries across the world, we are also heartened by the tireless efforts and achievements of the LMAC and its partners here in Lebanon. It is indeed remarkable to see a country that has been so effective at turning suffering caused by vicious and indiscriminate weapons into a source of strength, resilience and leadership.
Thousands of explosive remnants of war have been secured or cleared from school, roads or residential areas, tens of thousands of people have received mine risk education, and many have benefited from mine victim assistance. These achievements, in addition to the ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions by the Lebanese Government, have enabled Lebanon to steadily progress in its recovery journey towards a safer, more sustainable country, while delegations from many other countries have travelled here to Lebanon to also learn from this experience.
However, many serious challenges remain ahead. Our meeting this evening serves as an important opportunity to review achievements and highlight barriers to reaching our goals, while recognizing that without proper support, survivors of landmines and explosive remnants of war may face a lifetime of poverty and discrimination.
The excellent cooperation between the LMAC, mine clearance organizations, and other key partners has yielded the impressive clearance of 70% of total contaminated areas in accordance with the 2016 set timeline for a free of cluster munitions Lebanon. At the same time, the LMAC noted with great concern during the recently concluded Meeting of the State Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Zambia that Lebanon at present will be unable to meet its 2016 timeline due to the combined impact of shortages in funding for clearance operations and the identification of new areas contaminated by landmines dating back to the civil war period.
This delay in achieving a Lebanon free of cluster munitions and other UXO means that mines will continue to restrict people’s freedom of movement, hinder socio-economic development, and sadly result in more loss of life and limb that could be prevented. The need for strong partnerships and continued support from the international community is as important as ever.
Ladies and Gentlemen
This call for continued support comes at a difficult time for Lebanon as national challenges are sharply exacerbated by the Syrian conflict. The undeniable need to address the humanitarian needs of the Syrian crisis ought not to stand in the way of strengthening Lebanon’s ability to free itself from the terrible effects of mines. Indeed, the two aims are mutually supportive and complementary.
There are two imperatives in mine action work: the humanitarian imperative to save people from death and injury, and the developmental imperative to restore normal life, security, peace and prosperity. Humanitarian mine action was, and still is, about people. We are concerned not just with the weapons themselves, but the ways in which they affect people's lives.
The United Nations Development Programme remains committed to working closely with national authorities and non-governmental organizations to foster the legislative, social, and economic conditions that enable mine victim survivors to realize their rights as full, productive members of society. In this regard, we believe it is critically important that Lebanon ratifies the “Access and Rights of People with Disability” law in order to shift from a more charity based approach to one where persons with disabilities are accorded their full rights with dignity.
Moreover, the United Nations Development Programme stands ready to continue its work with the LMAC and partner organizations for the purpose of eradicating the threats of unexploded mines, while promoting sustainable socio-economic development in affected regions and strengthening their resilience in the face of the Syrian crisis.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the European Commission and member states, as well as other partners including the United States Government, for your continued commitment and support to the Mine Action program and the daily impact on people’s lives that this brings.
And finally, I wish to recognize and applaud the outstanding work of the LMAC and partner organizations based on the exceptional professionalism and dedication that has brought well-deserved recognition as a center for excellence serving the county and the region. In this we can all be proud and look forward to our continued partnership for a safer, more resilient Lebanon.