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Afghanistan: Concern about growing mine threat

04-10-2001 News Release 01/39

Afghanistan is one of the countries worst contaminated by landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). As thousands of Afghans reportedly flee from urban areas to the countryside or toward the nation’s borders, the ICRC is concerned that this could result in soaring numbers of mine casualties.

" Since the current crisis began, we have received no data on casualties”, said Laurence Desvignes, head of the ICRC’s mine-awareness unit. “But large numbers of people are now attempting to cross mine-infested borders and the risks are definitely growing. " Past conflicts such as Bosnia and Kosovo had shown that landmines were a huge threat, she went on, when large numbers of people were on the move, especially off the roads.

From March 1998 to December 2000, the ICRC delegation in Afghanistan recorded 2,812 mine/UXO casualties, half of whom were children. Last year, about one quarter of the country’s mine victims were people on the move, either because they were fleeing war or drought or because of a nomadic life style.

The ICRC's mine-related work in Afghanistan focuses on medical care, physical rehabilitation and awareness programmes. Since 1994 the organization has been supporting the Afghan Red Crescent Society in its efforts to raise awareness of the mine/UXO risk among the most vulnerable communities. Through cooperation with mine-clearance agencies and other humanitarian organizations, the ICRC is promoting a community-based approach in which awareness raising is part of broader humanitarian work.

" In addition to the awareness-raising activities themselves, we work to meet subsistence needs and thus free people of the motivation to take risks, " Desvignes explained. " We hope that this will lower the number of casualties. "

The Afghan Red Crescent and the ICRC collect at least 85% of all data on new mine victims in the country. This is essential for the UN and mine-action agencies, enabling them as it does to better target, survey, mark and carry out mine-awareness work.

    

Supported by the ICRC, the Afghan Red Crescent has set up mobile rapid-response teams to increase awareness of the mine/UXO danger in affected areas. Large numbers of victims have been treated in hospitals and other health-care facilities that receive ICRC assistance. In addition, the ICRC has set up prosthetic/orthotic centres in Kabul, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad, Faizabad and Gulbahar to provide landmine victims and other disabled people free of charge with artificial limbs, orthotic appliances and rehabilitation. In 2000, the organization’s staff in Afghanistan produced 4,600 artificial limbs, 6,360 orthotic appliances, 10,680 pairs of crutches and 865 wheelchairs.

The ICRC’s physical rehabilitation programme in Afghanistan last year reached the largest number of beneficiaries of any such ICRC programme worldwide.