News 04 Apr 16

Demining in Bosnia Slowed By Lack of Funds

Lack of funds is slowing down the process of ridding Bosnia and Herzegovina of mines and the deadline for clearing the country entirely will have to be extended to 2024, experts warn.

Rodolfo Toe
BIRN
Sarajevo
A minefield in Bosnia. Photo: Creative Commons/Jakub Sochacki.

Clearing Bosnia of wartime mines is proceeding slower than expected due to lack of funds, and the authorities are planning to revise the existing strategy, which was planned for completion by 2019, an expert from the Bosnian Mine Action Center, BHMAC, told BIRN.

"We have a delay of three-and-a-half years to the roadmap set by the existing strategy," Goran Zdrale, a senior officer working at BHMAC, said, adding that the date for completion of the strategy will "probably have to be postponed to 2024".

Zdrale said the main reason for the delay was the lack of funds.

"From 2009 to 2015 the funds provided were only half of the expected amount," Zdrale noted.

Over the past six years, BHMAC had a yearly budget of around 20 million euros instead of the 40 million euros indicated in the strategy.

According to the latest data available from March 2016, mines remain present on 2.3 per cent of the territory of the country, exposing 15 per cent of the total population - 545,603 people - to danger.

Solving this issue even by 2024 might prove an optimistic estimate. BHMAC acting director Sasa Obradovic told the Banja Luka-based newspaper Nezavisne Novine last week that at the current tempo of work, "we will need 60 years [to accomplish this task]."

Lack of financial resources can only partially explain the delays in demining Bosnia, a senior demining expert who has been working for years in Bosnia, who asked to remain anonymous, told BIRN.

"In the past, the Bosnian authorities worked mostly on easy minefields, which didn't present many difficulties... the fields which have to be cleared right now are in complex terrains, like woods, or have been filled with extremely lethal landmines," the source said.

This situation inevitably "increases risks for sappers", he added.

In the past months, two sappers lost their lives and four have been injured. The total number of victims of landmines since the end of the 1992-5 war stands at 606, BHMAC has reported.

"Many minefields, especially around Doboj and along the river Spreca, are extremely dangerous," the same source said, noting that clearing them will require a lot of time.

He called on donors "to focus more on the quality of the job, rather on the number of square meters of fields which needs to be cleaned".

He also blamed the lack of funds on the scandals that hit the BHMAC in recent years.

Dusan Gavran, the former director of BHMAC, was arrested in 2014 on accusations of abuse of office and forgery of official documents.

At a session of the Board of Donors for Demining last week in Sarajevo, the Minister of Civil Affairs, Adil Osmanovic, said trust needed to be rebuilt in the ability of domestic institutions, especially BHMAC, to deal with the problem. "Our goal is to secure those citizens who live in contaminated regions," Osmanovic said.

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