Andrew Mitchell writes for The Telegraph
Every day 15 people are killed or injured by landmines and unexploded ordnance. Most of them are children, like the 10-year-old girl I met in Kabul, who suffered life changing injuries after stepping on a mine while playing with her friends. As secretary of state for international development, I saw first-hand the horrific damage that these indiscriminate weapons can do to the lives and bodies of children.
At that time, the UK government stepped up to help clear land in countries struggling to recover from conflicts such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan, preventing tragic loss of life and injury. In so doing, we allowed education, farming, trade and enterprise to flourish. It was of huge benefit to the civilians of these countries but also a vital soft power tool in Britain's arsenal.
This is practical, hands-on work, carried out in large part by worldleading British NGOs such as Mines Advisory Group and Halo Trust. Using the skills and experience of many British ex-servicemen, they help to make the world a safer and more prosperous place, while demonstrating British values with every controlled detonation that takes place.
Visiting the offices of Mines Advisory Group with fellow Conservative MPs in Manchester last week, I heard about the progress made since then in places like Mount Sinjar, in Iraq, where Isil left behind IED booby traps. Schools and clinics are now back in operation and life is slowly returning to normal. I also heard about the scale of the challenge that remains: 60 million people still live in daily fear of these explosives.
So I was shocked to learn that the Treasury is imposing cuts on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office which will reduce the funding invested through landmine clearance by more than 80 per cent. As my colleague Tom Tugendhat reflected, it is an unfathomable act of national self-harm that will cost not just lives and limbs but cause immeasurable damage to Britain's strategic interests abroad.
People in South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Iraq, Lebanon and Vietnam will no longer receive any UK support for their efforts to rid communities of the peril of landmines and other remnants of war. The consequences for conflict-affected communities will be devastating; the impact on Britain's reputation on the global stage a matter of grave concern. We were told that aid cuts would be temporary. Ministers assured us that many had already been made. Yet now we discover that more desperate damage is being done.
Britain has long been a global leader in mine clearance, as one of the founding signatories on the 1997 global Mine Ban Treaty. Just four years ago Prince Harry and Priti Patel, then DFID secretary of state, unveiled an increased UK commitment to help rid the world of landmines. The former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson visited minefield clearers in Afghanistan in 2018 to commemorate a decade of life-saving. We can be rightly proud of Global Britain's record and reputation in this critical area.
Angola will receive no UK funding next year, when the world will mark the 25th anniversary of the day that Princess Diana walked through a minefield in that country to raise awareness of the issue. And in
Zimbabwe, these cuts will undermine that country's efforts to become landmine free by 2025. To cut all funding to Zimbabwe seems especially unjust, given the pivotal role of Zimbabwean deminers in helping the UK make the Falkland Islands landmine-free just a year ago.
It is particularly shocking that the Government is withdrawing all support for South Sudan, where conflict and famine are at the epicentre of a growing humanitarian emergency and where landmine clearance can contribute to food security and political stability. History teaches us that unstable nations turn into unstable regions and that we ignore countries plagued by conflict and instability at considerable cost, in both lives and treasure.
Ultimately, these projects and programmes are insurance policies against further loss of taxpayers' money. As General Mattis told Donald Trump: "The more you cut aid, the more I need to spend on ammunition."
Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP was development secretary from 2010 to 2012 read more at www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion