On the 19th of May 2009, the Government of Sri Lanka declared the 25 year long conflict between Government forces and the Liberation Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE) over. During the final months of the conflict an estimated 300,000 people fled the northern areas and were accommodated in camps in Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna Districts. By the beginning of 2011, the majority of people had left the IDP camps and returned to their home areas in the north. A large number of returnees are still residing with host families or accommodated in temporary settlements and thus unable to return to their homes, however, principally due to the mine threat.
Although the full extent of the mine and UXO contamination is not fully known, it is realistic to assume that clearance will continue in the short to medium term. Only after that will the safe return and reintegration of all IDPs be possible. This was supported by a National Mine Action Strategy paper which was released towards the end of 2010. In addition to the conflict-generated IDPs in 2009, there are an estimated additional 300,000 IDPs who have been displaced for 10 or more years and are also waiting for safe access to their places of origin. Many of the latter group will be very vulnerable to mine threats as they have not been in the areas for many years and are therefore even less aware of threats and safe/unsafe areas.
An estimation of the scope of the contamination and the resources is constantly being reviewed. The GOSL and mine action organisations are predicting another 1-2 years of demining necessary to complete and release all the High and Medium priority tasks, and a further 4-5 years to remove the residual threat and declare Sri Lanka mine free.
Initially Danish Demining Group’s (DDG) Sri Lanka programme focused on supporting the 2002 ceasefire and peace process by clearing land for resettlement and development in the northern and eastern regions. With renewed conflict in July 2006, DDG entered into an emergency clearance phase in support of the IDPs driven from their homes by the fighting. This national effort focused on clearing contaminated villages which was hindering the return of the civil population.
Following the end of the conflict in May 2009 and in accordance with government priorities, mine clearance was given high priority status. DDG responded to this, along with other mine action agencies and donors, by almost doubling the clearance capacity; all while relocating operations from the East of the country to the areas formerly held by the LTTE.
DDG always seeks to employ locally, especially IDPs, and has a focus on gender balance in order to ensure equal opportunities to both men and women and ensure income opportunity to both sexes. Initially, the employment of females was confined to support staff and medics due to the hard physical work of manual demining. However, since the procurement of 60 metal detectors in 2011 we have been able to raise the percentage of the female workforce to 10%. DDG has furthermore employed an all-female survey team.
In early 2012, DDG was fully operational in the Jaffna, Killinochchi and Vavuniya Districts with a capacity of 14 manual demining teams, 4 survey teams and 4 mechanical ground preparation units (armoured JCBs). Clearance equipment included metal detectors and rakes. DDG had a field office in Jaffna and two field camps in Jeyapuram in the Killinochchi District and Omanthai in the Vavuniya District. The total number employed by DDG at that time was 470 national staff and 3 expatriate staff.
However, in May 2012, due to funding constraints, DDG had to close its operations in the Jaffna District and lay off 5 manual demining teams and 2 survey teams. The Field Office in Jaffna, which was supporting both Jaffna and Killinochchi Districts, was closed end of November 2012, and duties transferred to the Colombo office. Thereafter, in February 2013, due to further funding issues, the Jeyapuram camp was closed, further reducing the number of personnel employed.
DDG is now operational only in Omanthai and Vavuniya, maintaining 4 manual demining teams, 1 survey team and 1 mechanical ground preparation unit. All administrative and finance support functions are handled by the Colombo office. All expatriate positions have been replaced by competent national staff, with the exception of the Country Director, who is now the only expatriate in DDG Sri Lanka. The present cadre of national staff of DDG Sri Lanka is 140.
The DDG Impact Monitoring tool was implemented in Sri Lanka in late 2010 and several surveys have been conducted since. Reports are distributed to donors and relevant stakeholders.
During the 10 years that DDG has been operational in Sri Lanka its main funding has come from DANIDA, Embassy of Japan, SIDA, AusAid and the US Department of State (PMWRA). DDG is now fully funded by the US Department of State (PMWRA).