Mine/UXO awareness programmes for internally displaced persons
The overall goal of mine/unexploded ordnance awareness programmes is to reduce the number of casualties by changing patterns of behaviour and proposing alternative solutions appropriate to each community.
Despite all efforts to rid the world of antipersonnel mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO), these weapons remain a menace and bring suffering to civilian populations in many parts of the world. The approach of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is both remedial (assistance to mine victims through curative care and physical rehabilitation) and preventive (implementation of international humanitarian law and mine awareness programmes for civilians at risk).
The ICRC, in close collaboration with national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, has gradually refined its strategy to focus better on the specific needs of populations at risk, thus increasing the impact of its mine/UXO awareness programmes. These programmes are currently based on three main principles:
1. Gathering relevant information on local needs, to help devise an appropriate mine/UXO awareness strategy;
2. Involving mine-contaminated communities in the mine awareness process;
3. Co-operating closely with other organizations in responding to communities’ needs and thus reducing the risks they face.
People who have remained in their villages during conflicts in which mines were laid and UXO left behind usually know where the threat is located. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees, on the other hand, generally have neither the knowledge of the threat nor the knowledge of its geographical location.
Accidents caused by lack of knowledge are therefore predominant among IDPs and returnees, although there are also incidents involving others who venture into dangerous areas for economic reasons or to resume their normal activities. Most mine/UXO victims are male adults between 20 and 45 years of age, engaged in outdoor activities (cutting wood, farming, herding, travelling, etc.) at the time of the accident.
The da ta collection system in Bosnia-Herzegovina revealed that, between 1996 and 2001, an average of 48% of mine and UXO victims were IDPs or returnees (28% IDPs and 20% returnees). Interestingly enough, the percentage of IDP and returnee victims significantly increased during the years 1998 - 2001, a period during which people returned to their villages en masse : in 1998, 2000 and 2001, around 50% of victims were IDPs or returnees, with a peak of 65% in 1999.
Between 1998 and 2001, returnees and IDPs in Afghanistan accounted for a fraction of the total number of mine/UXO victims in that country; however, along with travellers and Kuchis, they constitute almost 25% of the victims. This can be explained by the fact that populations on the move usually have no information about the presence of mines in the areas they are going through. As ICRC data collection teams continue their work, and as IDPs now start to return to their villages, data will show in the near future whether the total figure is increasing or not.
In Kosovo, half of all mine/UXO victims between June 1999 and June 2000 were killed or injured during June and July 1999, while returning from Macedonia and Albania.
Accidents resulting from a lack of knowledge can be prevented if better education is provided and local authorities and resident populations are involved in the process. The implementation of community-based activities, where local volunteers are identified by the community and trained by the ICRC and/or the local National Society, is essential in ensuring that the mine/UXO awareness messages are kept alive within affected communities and transferred to newcomers. The involvement of local authorities is crucial, as they will be the first to know about the return of the population.
If we are to improve our understanding of high-risk behaviour patterns, we must work with communities and gather information from them, to find out what risks people are taking, why they are taking those risks (economic factors, social pressure, emotional factors, denial of reality, etc.), how they perceive the mine/UXO problem, and what solutions they propose. Involving affected communities and engaging in dialogue with them helps to identify the specific problems that the mine/UXO threat poses for villages. We can then involve villagers in finding appropriate solutions to those problems. The ICRC and National Society mine awareness teams link up with other humanitarian organizations and other ICRC departments to implement those solutions. This community-based approach helps prevent accidents attributable to economic causes. In other words, we must not only deliver the right message in a way that will capture people’s attention, but we must also find ways of changing high-risk behaviour by involving the communities concerned in addressing the problem.
The programme in Bosnia-Herzegovina was designed to support community initiatives and to encourage community members to become involved in seeking answers to the mine/UXO problem. Mine awareness sessions for high-risk groups, such as returnees and refugees from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) as well as local residents and children, were organized in response to local needs. A media campaign was launched to support community-based activities, preceded by a media survey to identify the best approach to high-risk populations such as returnees.
As the return process gathers momentum, special attention is paid to returnees. In many cases, people are returning to areas that have been uninhabited for several years and are highly polluted. They therefore have to start by cleaning their homes and recovering their land for farming. Ideally, in order to minimize the mine hazard for such returnees, local authorities should ensure that areas are surveyed before returnees arrive, and should make these areas a priority for clearance. Mine/UXO awareness instructors liaise with local authorities and organizations, as well as with returnees themselves, to ensure that mine awareness messages and materials are provided and that alternative solutions are found. Specific mine/UXO awareness leaflets targeting returnees are also produced and distributed.
The ICRC organized a training course for seven mine/UXO awareness instructors from the British, Finnish and Swiss Red Cross societies to help them carry out mine/UXO awareness education among the Kosovo refugee population in their respective countries.
To ensure that returnees received mine/UXO awareness messages, the ICRC also worked with UNICEF to train 75 International Office of Migration (IOM) staff working at returnee and IDP reception and transportation centres. Staff at the centres, or those working as bus or flight escorts, discuss the issue and distribute mine/UXO awareness material. The ICRC has provided IOM with 5,000 children’s leaflets and 9,000 general information leaflets, as well as posters and mine/UXO awareness videos that are often shown in-flight.
When IDPs took refuge along the Kosovar side of the Kosovar-Macedonian border and the Kosovar/Serbian boundary, the ICRC organized mine/UXO awareness sessions for them and distributed education materials in order to prevent mine/UXO incidents. Most of the sessions were organized in collective centres and ICRC soup kitchens.
Through its community-based mine/UXO awareness programme, the ICRC worked with civilians directly affected by the threat in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYROM). This included the resident population that had decided to stay as well as the refugee and displaced populations that had left the conflict zones. A geographical priority list was established by the ICRC to ensure that those most at risk, or those about to return to high-risk areas, were the first to be reached.
Refugee population – Around 80,000 people left Macedonia for Kosovo during the conflict (source: UNHCR). In order to make refugee families aware of the danger of UXO from shelling before returning to their homes in Macedonia, the ICRC delegation in Kosovo distributed around 20,000 leaflets. It was important that people understood that the threats in Macedonia would differ from the threats they faced in Kosovo, where unexploded cluster bombs and mines were the main problem.
Displaced population – There were more than 70,000 internally displaced persons inside Macedonia at the end of the conflict. Mine/UXO awareness instructors visited all collective centres, whilst those staying with host families received a leaflet when they arrived at the Macedonian Red Cross to collect their monthly ICRC relief assistance. Macedonian Red Cr oss instructors also conducted awareness presentations in their respective branches for displaced persons in host families.
The recent restoration of peace to Afghanistan does not change the fact that the country is one of the most heavily mine-infested in the world. In addition to old landmines laid during more than 20 years of war, newly dropped devices such as unexploded bomblets scattered by cluster bomb units now represent a further threat.
Since the events of September 11 and the change of regime in Afghanistan, IDPs are now moving back to their villages, some of which are located on the former front-line and are therefore contaminated by mines and UXO. Cluster munitions represent a new danger to IDPs and returnees as most of the strike locations are close to villages and/or IDP camps.
The ICRC and Afghanistan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) approach consists of investigating cluster munition accidents so that clearance agencies can respond to the threat immediately. Mine/UXO awareness teams also target IDPs in front-line villages in order to inform them as soon as possible of the threat in their area. The ICRC is also gathering information on mine/UXO casualties at a national level. The process of reporting deaths and i njuries is now being improved through community-based information collection rather than just recording cases in the health centres where the victims are treated.
In such a situation, mine/UXO awareness is not only a matter of alerting people to the danger, but of actually changing behaviour and, hopefully, also providing economic solutions. The ICRC strives to ensure that preventive action takes full account of the economic reality of populations at risk.
The ICRC conducted surveys in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia to determine the extent of mine/UXO contamination following the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The assessment was extended to the Occupied Territories with the object of initiating mine awareness activities, which would be developed further once the Occupied Territories were returned to Eritrea and/or handed over to the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.