Chris Whatley, Executive Director, The HALO Trust (USA)
The HALO Trust was thrilled to see the U.S. Department of State announce last week that it will resume funding for demining in Nagorno Karabakh. This comes at a crucial time. Since the ceasefire in November 2020, thousands of families have returned home only to be threatened by unexploded munitions in their houses, yards, and streets.
Of 101 settlements that HALO visited in Nagorno Karabakh, 68 percent were found to be contaminated with cluster bombs. The largest population centers, such as Stepanakert, Martakert, and Martuni, all had the highest levels of contamination, amplifying the threat to civilians.
This support will help expand HALO's operations in the region and add more locally recruited staff to clear the explosive hazards found in communities. Thanks to our champions in Congress who pushed for funding Karabakh demining, families will have safe homes, farmers will have safe land, and children will have safe paths to school.
The U.S. previously funded landmine clearance in Nagorno Karabakh through support from USAID that began in 2000. After March 2020, funding from USAID was discontinued and our work has since relied on private donations.
On behalf of all of HALO, we also express our fullest gratitude to the thousands of advocates that wrote to their members of Congress over the past year, urging them to support this needed work.
This progress is just the beginning and more needs to be done in order to make Nagorno Karabakh completely safe.
In Congress, the House and Senate have both included $2 million for Nagorno Karabakh demining in this year’s budget drafts. However, Congressional and advocate support is needed to ensure this funding makes it into the final budget and that the program continues to receive future support.