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Localisation: The journey towards landmine free needs to be accelerated but equitable

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Darren Cormack, MAG CEO

More than 7,000 women, girls, boys and men were killed or injured in 2020. These are the shocking new findings from the Landmine Monitor. It is deeply saddening that more than two decades after 122 states came together to ban landmines, the number of lives these indiscriminate weapons are destroying is rising.

It is the reason why the 19th Meeting of States Parties (19MSP) to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty (APMBC) this week has been so vital --- we must accelerate progress towards a mine-free future, where communities can live, work and play free from fear.

However, we must also ensure that life-saving progress is also equitable. And do more to recognise the power imbalances within the mine action sector. We need to confront the fact that the women, girls, boys and men impacted by our efforts to free communities of landmines often have limited representations in the decisions taken about them.

It is why I was pleased to be asked by The Netherlands, which holds the presidency of the APMBC, to join the 19MSP discussion about localisation.

Localisation is about decentralising power, money and resources in humanitarian and development aid. It is about local actors influencing action and making decisions throughout — with international actors (like MAG) stepping in only if and when necessary. It is about mine action being more representative and sensitive to the communities it helps.

What follows is an edited version of my speech.

For MAG, the localisation agenda is an opportunity to be open and think honestly about tackling inequalities in the mine action sector. A fair society is a humanitarian goal in itself — but also because without it, we cannot realistically, as a sector, hope to achieve our goals.

Capacity development initiatives in the mine action sector often focus on imparting technical skills and knowledge to national actors and embedding structures for their retention. While access to training and financial resources are essential, localisation is only effective if it engages and empowers at every phase of humanitarian action. Localisation is not an action that MAG can 'do' on behalf of others. Instead, we must be conscious of how we can facilitate engagement and create space for others — and most importantly, we must be ready to concede long-held advantages.

The relatively small number of partners engaged in survey and clearance speaks to the complex risk environment associated with mine action — a key consideration for donors and operators. Donors should continue to strongly encourage international implementing partners to work with local actors while ensuring those partners do not bear a higher level of security or safety risk — and international operators must extend an equal duty of care to partner staff. Donors must be clear on this expectation but also aware of the costs involved — and be willing to bear them.

Reliable and consistent funding cycles are essential — local operators cannot bridge gaps or operate at risk if funding is unpredictable. Expectations around outputs should also be realistic and acknowledge the need for capacity development, meaning simplistic metrics are unhelpful for measuring success.

Most donors already require implementers to report on the value of funding reaching local actors. While this is an important indicator, it is essential to examine partners qualitatively. Local and international actors must work together as strategic partners, not simply through transactional subcontract arrangements. Nor should local NGOs be perceived as 'beneficiaries' of training and capacity development — they are an essential part of an effective and conflict-sensitive mine action response, with vital political and contextual expertise and critical stakeholder relations.

Above all, what is needed is a willingness to change how we work politically. Genuine localisation requires organisations like MAG to be willing to share not only funding but also influence. For example, resource mobilisation training with local partners will often focus on writing proposals and preparing budgets. But to address power imbalances, they should also include advocacy training and, critically, should be accompanied by introductions to key donors and stakeholders.

In Sri Lanka, MAG has worked to open up funding opportunities for partners such as DASH, conducting joint donor meetings for ongoing projects and future funding.

Genuine localisation requires us to look at our role in mine action from a different perspective. We must recognise that our work always has a political dimension, and acknowledge the inequalities in resource distribution and political representation — and work as a sector to address them.

For localisation to succeed, international actors must take actions that often feel as if they are not in our best interests. Only by challenging the status quo can we bring about a lasting change in the best interests of the communities we serve.