Azerbaijan: safe playgrounds for children
Although the hostilities in the Nagorny Karabakh region of Azerbaijan were suspended over a decade ago, their deadly legacy lives on in the form of landmines. The ICRC endeavours to prevent the havoc they cause.
Children are not spared by the mine scourge
The village of Mahmudlu-2 is locate d in the frontline district of Fizuli, in the south-western region of Azerbaijan. It is one of many villages where the civilian population continues to suffer from the effects of the conflict over Nagorny Karabakh. Most victims are killed or injured while working in the fields, collecting firewood or tending to their livestock.
The Landmine impact survey, completed in 2003 by the Survey Action Centre, identified 480 communities affected by mines and other explosive remnants of war. Most of these communities happen to be in Fizuli District.
Azerbaijani children living in frontline villages hear instructions, such as, " Be careful! " , " Don't walk far from the yard! " , " Play only around the house! " daily from their parents. Ulvi Orujev, a 12-year-old resident of Mahmudlu-2 village is not allowed to play far from his house. His parents only let him to play in the yard. He says, " They worry that we might step on land mines. But now that we have a safe playground, they are less worried. "
How the ICRC and its partners are helping prevent death and injury
To prevent death and injury in mine-contaminated areas, the ICRC has been supporting the Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society in providing safe places where children living close to the frontline can play. This is one of many practical measures taken by the ICRC and national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the world to reduce the impact of mines and other explosive remnants of war on civilian populations.
Recently, a playground, a joint project of the Azerbaijani Red Crescent and the ICRC, was opened in Mahmudlu-2 village. At the opening ceremony the project’s coordinator, Bayram Valiyev of the Azerbaijan Red Cr escent, had this to say, " As part of a joint strategy to reduce the mine risk, the Azerbaijan Red Crescent and the ICRC are working to provide secure places for families to spend their leisure time. The two institutions concentrate on communities heavily infested with mines and other explosive remnants of war and where such devices still pose a threat to children " . Valiyev and Allahverdi Mahmudov, a community leader, signed a contract for the handover of the playground to the village.
Every evening 60-year-old Tahir Humbatov spends time with his grandchildren. " I highly appreciate the construction of this play area. Because of the location of our village, our lives are permanently at risk from shootings or mine explosions. Walking in unfamiliar places is risky, especially for children. With the construction of the play area, I feel relieved, " Humbatov says.
As his grandchildren scamper from one plaything to another in the playground, he sits on a bench, chatting with neighbours and playing chess. " Seeing how happy my grandchildren are is a great joy, " says Humbatov.
It all started in 2005
A safe play area is a site known to be safe and which has been developed into an outdoor recreational place for children and adolescents. Ideally, the area is fenced off. Simple messages are placed around it to warn about the danger posed by mines and other explosive remnants of war.
The " Safe play area " project was launched in Azerbaijan's frontline regions in 2005 with financial support from the Norwegian Red Cross and technical support from the ICRC. In 2007, the ICRC extended financial and operational support to the Azerbaijani Red Crescent for the project. Thanks to funding from the International Olympic Committee for the construction of additional safe play areas in 2008, the Azerbaijani Red Crescent and the ICRC jointly opened seven new ones in August. Now some 3,500 children living in 42 communities in the districts of Agdam, Gazakh, Tovuz, Aghstafa, Aghjabadi, Fizuli, Goy-Gol, Goranboy, Terter and Gadabey can play safely and without fear.
As the ICRC’s Herbi Elmazi confirms, " Safe play areas have proved to be a great asset. They provide an opportunity to alert children to the danger of mines and other explosive remnants of war in Azerbaijan, while contributing to their well-being and psychological and social development. It is wonderful to see the good that the ICRC and the Azerbaijani Red Crescent have done for children affected by mines in this country. "
Even the children chip in
Children were closely involved in designing play areas and offering safety tips for young people living in conflict-affected areas. But they did more than that.
In Mahmudlu-2 the safe play area was constructed near a school with student population of over 200. Mahmudov, the community leader, who is also the school’s director, said that high school students had taken part in the construction by digging the foundation for installations and mixing concrete. " They put in as much work as adults, " he says.
Ten-year-old Elgun Suleymanly recalls, " When we heard that a playground was to be constructed here, we were very happy and ran towards our school. We were told that we would assist with the construction. We cleared debris from the ground and brought in water and sand in buckets. " Suleymanly and his friends say that they really enjoy playing on the newly installed swings, turnstiles and chutes.
Mahmudov believes that the playground will offer children an opportunity to stay away from dangerous areas, landmines and other explosive remnants of war. " First and foremost, it is a safe area for playing. But this ground can also be used as a place for physical training for the younger pupils. While the school has its own sports ground, this new play area is meant mainly for the younger pupils, " he says.
Mahmudov expressed the hope that " very soon there would be no need to construct safe playgrounds for children,” and that “the whole country would be a safe area, free of mines. "