The Killid Group, January 28, 2013

Civilians live and work among landmines

At least 45 people lose their limbs every month to deadly anti-personnel mines, which have been banned by 161 countries

By Esmatullah Mayar

Efforts to clear Afghanistan of landmines have been painfully slow. At least 45 people lose their limbs every month to deadly anti-personnel mines, which have been banned by 161 countries.

Afghanistan should have been free of landmines by the end of 2013. In December last year it was among four countries that requested extensions on their mine clearance deadlines. The country has been granted until 2023 to clear all mined areas.

A signatory of the UN Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention or Ottawa Convention as it is called, Afghanistan is littered with anti-personnel mines that are built to maim. Since 1997,the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a global network of non-governmental organisations,has been campaigning to make the world free of landmines and cluster ammunition. It has a presence in 90 countries including Afghanistan.

Demining activities were started in 1979 in Afghanistan. The work, which is extremely time-consuming, has meant that amillion Afghans still live in areas with unexploded ordinances.

At ICRC's prosthetic centre in Kabul, 36-year-old Ghulam Siddiq of Khogiani district, Nangarhar province, has come for an artificial leg. "I was cutting some grass in the mountain in the early evening when suddenly an explosion happened," he told Killid.

He said he could not believe he had lost a leg. "When I recovered consciousness I found myself in the hospital. My leg was cut below my knee. It was painful for me. I began to remonstrate with God: one side is poverty and the other side I have trouble with my leg!" he said. "Then I kept my patience. This might be the will of God."

Built to maim

Baz Mohammad is a 40-year-old resident of Shakardara district of Kabul who has also come to the ICRC centre to get artificial limbs. The ICRC has limb-fitting centres in Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Gulbahar, Faizabad and Jalalabad.

Mine victim Mohammed Agha, 15, blinded in one eye with leg injuries and the loss of his right hand while playing with an unexploded ordinance with his younger brother
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - FEBRUARY 21: Mine victim Mohammed Agha, 15, blinded in one eye with leg injuries and the loss of his right hand while playing with an unexploded ordinance with his younger brother, sits in the children's ward of the Emergency-Surgical Center for War Victims hospital February 21, 2003 in Kabul, Afghanistan. Many Afghan children remain uneducated about the different types of mines and pick them up thinking they are harmless. After two decades of war, Afghanistan is littered with unexploded ordinance (UXO) that will take years to clean up. (Photo: Life)

He said he lost both legs in a landmine accident. "When I was loading wheat I stepped on a mine. I did not know what happened," he said disconsolately.

There appears to be a lack of understanding about the slow pace of mine clearing work. There is a belief among ordinary people that mine clearance is being undertaken in areas where mines do not exist. They insist that areas that are surveyed for mines are free of mines.

A resident of Nangarhar, who did not want to be identified, said: "There are areas where mines have been planted. But work takes place in other areas." According to him there has been no demining in the last four years in areas that everyone knows is heavily mined.

Dr Mohammad Dayem Kakar, head of the Afghan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA), addressed a meeting in Herat, before the start of demining operations in parts of Herat's Karokh, Obi and Chesht Sahrif districts. He said mines were spread over 599 sq kms."An estimated 3,000 people were killed or injured by mines and unexploded materials each month three years back," he said. "But now the figure has decreased to 45 people each month."

Kakar hoped that the contaminated areas in Herat would be cleared by 2018 and the whole country demined by 2023.Kakar praised the perilous work undertaken by demining organisations. "The mine is a danger for human beings, and our duty is to identify the areas and clear it."

Essential task

Mines were laid by the communist regime of Dr Najibullah, during the fighting with US-supported mujahedin groups. Further mine-laying was done during the conflict between the Taleban government and the Northern Alliance. Landmines were planted in residential areas and agricultural land to make Afghanistan one of the most mined countries in the world.

Farid Humayun,head of The Halo Trust, said 54 sq kms were cleared over five years in three districts in Herat where the demining charity works. Another 12 districts, including the border districts of Ghorian, Kuhsan, Shindand and Adraskan in Herat will also be cleared according to plan.

The Halo Trust, according to its website, has 200 mine clearance teams working in Herat and nine provinces of the northern and central regions. Between 1988 and May 2010, HALO has destroyed over 736,000 mines (195,000 emplaced mines and 541,000 stockpiled mines), 10 million items of large caliber ammunition and 45.6 million bullets.

HALO's director Farid said their teams do not touch the new roadside bombs, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), placed by armed opponents of the government. They were the cause of 30 percent of civilian fatalities in the second half of 2012, according to the UN. A reported 967 people were killed and 1,590 injured.

Shahab Hakimi,head of the Mine Detection and Dog Centre (MDC), which trains dogs to do the dangerous work, urged donors to continue funding for the humanitarian mine-clearance efforts. He was hopeful the landmines littering the country could be cleared with continued funding and the sincere efforts of the non-governmental demining organisations.

Abigail Hartley, programme manager of the UN Mine Action Services, assured the audience that Afghanistan would meet its 2023 deadline.

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