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A strengthened mine action rapid response capacity

06-07-2007 Feature

Mines and explosive remnants of war kill and mutilate people and block their access to basic needs. The ICRC is therefore strengthening its capacity to respond rapidly to the threat caused by weapon contamination in emergency situations.

   
  ©ICRC/B. Lark    
 
  Practical exercises and role plays are an important part of the training. Here participants are engaged in a discussion with a militia commander in the fictive country Sandland.    
   



   
  ©ICRC/B. Lark    
 
  Discussion with a school teacher in order to assess the humanitarian consequences of weapon contamination in a local community in the fictive country Sandland. 
      

" In many of today's conflicts, mines, cluster munitions and other problems related to weapon contamination cause significant challenges, both for the affected communities and for humanitarian organisations like the ICRC, " says Ben Lark, head of the ICRC mine action sector in Geneva.

In or immediately after conflict situations, regular de-mining may be difficult or impossible. At the same time, the local population and organizations trying to address humanitarian needs may be at immediate risk because of weapon contamination. Water sources may be mined, hospital areas littered with different types of explosive remnants of war, schools or homes booby-trapped, fruit trees full of cluster munitions. In Lebanon alone, the UN estimates that more than a million unexploded cluster munitions remained on the ground after the conflict last summer.

" A rapid response in affected areas can reduce loss of lives and other problems caused by this contamination until more systematic clearance can take place, " Lark emphasises.

 Rapid response exercise  

The ICRC is therefore developing a pool of trained mine action personnel that can be deployed on short rapid response missions. Recently, mine action rapid response agreements were signed with the Swedish Rescue Services Agency (SRSA) and the Norwegian Red Cross. In the agreements, both organizations commit themselves to deploying trained personnel within a 72 hour notice period during emergency situations.

The delegates will support the gathering of information related to incidents and suspected da ngerous areas, ensure necessary emergency awareness activities and facilitate clearance. The SRSA staff will in addition have the capacity to conduct explosive ordnance disposal and survey or clear areas of particular humanitarian urgency.

As a first step towards implementation of these agreements, ten people from the Norwegian Red Cross and the SRSA were trained during a large mine action rapid response exercise in Sweden in June 2007. During the exercise, delegates spent five days learning about the ICRC approach to rapid response, and subsequently participated in a larger exercise with the UN and other actors.

" An important part of the training is to look at challenges related to coordination and information sharing between the various organisations involved in order to ensure efficient responses in real emergency situations " , says Lark.

 Long term problems  

Although rapid response is important to prevent loss of life in conflict or post conflict situations, the threat from mines and explosive remnants of war often remain long after the end of hostilities. Strengthening the capacity of local Red Cross and Red Crescent societies is therefore an important part of the ICRC’s activities to ensure the work continues as long as there is a need.

The focus over the last years has shifted from mine awareness activities to a more flexible, solution-oriented approach, based on local needs.

When access to basic needs is hindered by the presence of mines and explosive remnants of war, the ICRC seeks to ensure safe interim solutions that will protect people until the area has been cleared. This may take the form of giving access to alternative water sources in safe areas, the short-term supply of fuel in places where people must enter contaminated areas, construction of safe playgrounds f or children living in contaminated areas and income-generating activities to reduce risk-taking.

" The exercise has given me important knowledge about the various weapon types that cause problems related to weapon contamination and also about the ICRC’s broad capacity to respond " , says Peter Meyer, one of the Norwegian participants.

" The Red Cross can play an important part in reducing the consequences of these weapons both in emergency situations and over the long term. "