LAST weekend, the International Development Secretary visited Afghanistan to witness how taxpayers’ money is being spent there. As chief executive of Dumfriesshire-based HALO Trust, the UK’s largest mine clearance organisation, I was delighted that Priti Patel spent time with our Afghan team.

HALO has been clearing landmines and other explosive remnants of war in Afghanistan for more than 25 years. We’ve cleared more than 114,657 hectares and destroyed almost 800,000 mines, making land safe for agriculture, grazing and infrastructure.

The UK is a longstanding supporter of mine action in Afghanistan. The Department for International Development (DFID) has provided funds to clear Herat Province. A suburb of Herat city, with a population of more than 35,000 people, has been built on cleared land.

Through the generosity of our funders, HALO employs 2,700 Afghan de-miners. The value of offering dignified employment to young men of fighting age in volatile states such as Afghanistan cannot be over-stated. HALO is also finding ways of employing women.

However, while the number of mine accidents has shown a steady decline since 2001, the number of civilian casualties caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) is rising. Last year 2,156 civilians were killed or injured by IEDs.

The importance of clearing the explosive remnants of war from conflict zones will become increasingly significant. 2017 is a definitive moment to galvanise the worldwide response to removing the debris of war.

December marks the 20th anniversary of the Ottawa Landmine Ban Treaty, which was signed a few months after Princess Diana first brought the landmine issue to the world’s attention. The treaty is one of the world’s most widely accepted: more than 80 per cent of the world’s countries are signatories. Since 1997, global production of anti-personnel landmines has halted and vast stockpiles have been destroyed. The treaty is a fine example of international cooperation in an increasingly isolationist world.

Priti Patel is rightly determined that UK development aid produces tangible outcomes. The UK and other major donors have helped Afghanistan become 80 per cent mine free. Together with our donor partners, the UK can tackle the remaining 20 per cent and its deadly IED legacy. We would be instrumental in strengthening regional peace and security, promoting prosperity and economic opportunity and creating livelihood opportunities for thousands of young men who might otherwise become insurgents.

With our colleagues in the Mines Advisory Group, we are two great British charities committed to humanitarianism. We are determined to deliver well organized and efficient operations that meet the acid test of public and official scrutiny. Our work has moral value, visual impact and a measurable return on investment. Clearing up the debris of war is the key to unlocking a peaceful future for Afghanistan and the many other countries in a similar situation.

James Cowan is Chief executive of The HALO Trust