Both sides of the 1,465 km earthen berm that divides the Territory of Western Sahara remain contaminated with landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) as a result of 16 years of fighting between the Royal Moroccan Army (RMA) and Frente POLISARIO forces. These devices continue to endanger the lives of nomadic and local populations, along with the UN Military Observers (UNMO) who monitor the ceasefire.
In February 2008, UNMAS established a mine action programme within the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), based within the Mission Headquarters in Laayoune. In September 2016, the UNMAS Western Sahara office relocated to Tindouf, Algeria.
In coordination with its implementing partners to the east of the berm, UNMAS clears cluster strike areas and minefields and conducts road clearance and verification, thereby saving lives and delivering the mine action component of the MINURSO mandate. Additionally, UNMAS provides landmine safety training to all military and civilian newcomers to MINURSO, landmine safety refresher training to UNMOs, stationed at MINURSO Team Sites to both sides of the berm, as well as mine risk education to local and nomadic populations.
Through its interventions, UNMAS has facilitated humanitarian assistance, the safe movement of the peacekeeping operations and the initiation of essential economic activities. Mine action activities to the east of the berm in Western Sahara resulted in more than 89 million sqm of land cleared and released to support MINURSO mandate. At the same time, UNMAS contributed to equipping the local, nomadic and refugee populations with the skills and knowledge necessary to stay safe in environments where landmines and ERW are present. Moreover, as a result of UNMAS road verification efforts over the past years, MINURSO UNMOs are now able to use roads once believed to be contaminated.
UNMAS works in support of the wider MINURSO protection and stabilization efforts by providing assistance in the following four areas:
Contamination from landmines and ERW remains widespread in the Territory of Western Sahara. There is very limited information available regarding the location of hazardous areas, especially west of the berm. In 2008, a dangerous area survey was completed in five locations to the east of the berm. According to the results of the survey, Western Sahara is one of the most contaminated territories in the world.
Inclement weather conditions also pose a challenge to landmines/ERW clearance teams operating in the territory. Heavy wind, sandstorms along with high temperatures (up to 60 degrees Celsius) cause temporary cessations of mine action activities yearly. Sandstorms and rain can also move, bury or reveal landmines/ERW.
The UNMAS programme in Western Sahara is primarily funded by the UN Assessed Budget. Activities under this funding source include: survey, manual clearance, BAC, EOD, capacity development activities and an Emergency Response Capacity to the east of the berm. In 2016, Germany (USD 4.18 million) and Spain (USD 49,000) provided funds to UNMAS Western Sahara to conduct clearance, risk education and victim assistance activities.
UNMAS aims to further expand its capacity to address the impact of landmines/ERW threat to the east of the berm through additional non-technical survey and clearance operations. The additional resources required in 2017 for further expansion of UNMAS programmes in Western Sahara amounts to USD 3 million.
Updated: January 2017