On 7th June we continued our return to live talks and welcomed James Cowan, CEO of the HALO Trust, to talk to us about the unique service the trust offers in communities ravaged by war, as well as the challenges of helping on the frontline.
James has served as a Major General in the British army and he led military security at the London Olympics. His focus in leading HALO, he explained, has partly been on broadening its vision so that rebuilding efforts can work across intersecting issues of ‘conflict, conservation, and climate.’ A crucial component is ‘ensuring livelihoods for local people’, both in de-mining work and when de-mining is complete, and this goes hand in hand with a focus on with gender equality. Working across 28 countries with over 10,000 local staff, this is a significant challenge, but great progress has been made. In Sri Lanka, for instance, the trust employs 1,200 people, of which half are women. James emphasised the challenges of this kind of work: ‘de-mining is a highly traditional, repetitive activity, in which great courage is needed’.
James also stressed that the ‘proliferation of conflicts’ in the modern world, and the combined effects of these conflicts – displacement, malnourishment, lack of education, extreme poverty – demand that we be ‘literate about war, and its meaning…that puts us on our own, somewhere between the military and humanitarian end of things’.
James’s ambition is to reinvent HALO, ‘not just as a landmine action charity, but as a charity that takes action on conflict.’ This bolder and broader mission statement takes in everything from ‘disarmament and demobilisation’ to ‘education to public health’, with an overall emphasis on resilience and reconstruction in recovering communities. A focus on climate and environment has been emerging in recent years too. One project in Somaliland sees the Trust creating bunds for rainwater capture, and working with communities to ensure that, post-mine removal, genuinely sustainable farming practices are adopted. Similarly, a project in Angola aims to help the country in its continuing recovery from civil war, while at the same time restoring biodiversity, providing livelihoods in ecotourism and creating sustainable national parks.
In our Q&A, attention turned to HALO’s activities in Ukraine. With a presence in the country since 2015 and having ‘raised a great deal of money’ from donors, James confirmed that HALO is now in a position to provide an extraordinary service in all the areas around Kiev.’