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Economic crisis affects Lebanon de-mining

Funds that would go toward clearing a 205-square-kilometer danger zone have been diverted.

Since 2007, the number of de-mining teams clearing Lebanese soil has shrunk almost threefold to just over 40 teams. Many of the NGOs have had to pull their Lebanese teams and refocus their resources on more acute mine hot spots, such as Iraq, Gaza and the Republic of Congo.

“The war in Lebanon occurred three years ago and since then we have had earthquakes, and major wars,” said Christine Bennike, Lebanon country manager for Mine Advisory Group. “So of course funding will be realigned to where the most recent disaster or needs are.”

For people living here, this realignment simply means the mines — and the danger and hardship they bring — will be around for much longer.

“It also means there will be an increased number of civilian casualties,” Bennike says. “These are the negative results of lack of funding.”

Remaining NGOs like Mine Advisory Group are having to shake foreign governments — their traditional funding sources — harder for cash. But they're also having to innovate and develop new funding models in order to stay operational.

“We're only limited by our imaginations,” said Bennike, who spends much of her time researching and writing up grant proposals to unlock funds to replace those she once could rely on from foreign governments.

To many Lebanese, mine clearance has been somewhat an international problem solved with international money — until now. The funding crisis and the disappearance of de-mining NGOs is shifting the issue squarely into the domestic realm. The Lebanese Army is having to pick up the slack left in the wake of departing NGOs by training and putting its own teams out on the field. The next step is to open and stimulate domestic channels of funding to the problem.

“This is Lebanon and we'd like the Lebanese to start to participate in funding and providing support for us,” Bennike said.

In the meantime, Lebanon's dwindling army of de-miners will continue their increasingly painstaking task and Salima Barakat, like much of southern Lebanon, awaits her olive grove to bear a full harvest once again.