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Nepal: watch out for those explosive remnants of war

07-07-2010 Feature

The conflict in Nepal ended nearly four years ago. However the explosive remnants of war it left behind still pose a threat to the population. Monica Upadhyay talks about joint ICRC and Nepalese Red Cross work to alert the public to this menace.

Thuli Maya Tamang was participating in a mine-risk education session in her home district of Sindupalchowk on 16 June 2010, conducted by volunteers from the Nepal Red Cross Society with support from the ICRC. She stood up from her chair, and, pointing at the picture of a socket bomb – a kind of improvised explosive device – printed on a mine-risk education brochure, she said, " My younger son found a similar object from the jungle. What should I do with it? "

Thuli Maya vividly remembers the day – 16 April 2008 – when her 14-year-old elder son, Wangjew Lama, lost three finger tips on his right hand while playing with what he presumed to be a firecracker, but that was actually an improvised explosive device!

While sharing her real-life experience about her son's injuries, she suddenly realized that the rusted object her younger son had brought home some two months back, and that was still lying in her house, was a socket bomb and she now urgently needed to get rid of it.

 Deadly legacies  

It is almost four years since the conflict in Nepal ended, but sadly, hundreds of people have been killed and injured by the explosive remnants of war left behind by the parties to the conflict. These objects continue to pose a threat, maiming and killing people who come into contact with them.

Almost 70 out of a total of 75 districts in the country were affected by these deadly legacies of war. Most of these ordnances were deployed and used in rural areas, where people still stumble upon them while farming. Many times children, out of curiosity, touch ordnances that were carelessly left behind in homes and around the fields.

 Raising awareness  

To reduce the dangers posed by such objects, the Nepalese Red Cross Society conducts sessions of mine-risk education in around 60 districts of Nepal. " These sessions bring about behavioural changes and are meant to ensure the safety of civilians. The sessions, provided by a network of trained volunteers put a particular emphasis on educating children, " says Krishna Koirala, the Nepalese Red Cross Society programme manager for mine-risk education.

The sessions have helped to reduce the overall number of casualties in the past few years and when conducted immediately following an incident, they provide psychological support to people in distress.

 Relief …. more or less  

It was a great relief for Thuli Maya and her family when, after the mine-risk education session, and upon the intervention of the Nepalese Red Cross and the ICRC, the security officials concerned promptly removed the socket bomb from her house. While this prevented it from causing any bodily harm to Thuli Maya's family, she still has to cope with consequences of her elder son's experience with the improvised explosive device.

'We borrowed some 80 thousand rupees for Wangjew's treatment. If we do not get financial support soon, we may also have to sell our mortgaged land. Also, Wangjew has left school and I don't know how to persuade him to resume his studies ,'adds Thuli Maya. 

Thuli Maya's family may need to wait another couple of months before they receive the partial reimbursement for the boy’s medical expenses that they are entitled to under the government's conflict victims’ assistance policy. The ICRC and the Nepalese Red Cross are in regular contact with the district authorities to facilitate this process.

The ICRC and the Nepalese Red Cross pool their efforts to raise awareness of explosive remnants of war as part of their mission to alleviate human suffering.




Photos

Thuli Maya Tamang recounting her experience with improvised explosive devices. 

Thuli Maya Tamang recounting her experience with improvised explosive devices.
© ICRC / K. Khadgi

A Nepalese Red Cross volunteer raising public awareness of explosive remnants of war. 

A Nepalese Red Cross volunteer raising public awareness of explosive remnants of war.
© ICRC / M. Chemjong