ICRC community-based mine/unexploded ordnance awareness programme
In Georgia mines have been planted throughout the conflict areas. Despite the cessation of hostilities, land mines continue to kill and cause severe injuries.One of the fundamental roles of the ICRC is to promote the respect for international humanitarian law, which, among other regulations, prohibits the indiscriminate use of land mines. With mine awareness included to the mine action activities of the HALO Trust, the ICRC provided support to the ongoing mine awareness activities in carrying out the training for the responsible field officers. The aim was to look at the sustainability of information and advice within affected communities. The role of the community in the mine awareness program was the primary focus of the training activities. A strategy has been developed for realising the continuation of information and advice in affected communities through the training of community volunteers and the use of the child to child approach. A separate plan of action focusing on the use of media and materials was envisaged for the IDP (internally displaced persons) community of Western Georgia. In parallel, the ICRC endeavours to assist victims of mine incidents by providing surgical assistance and setting up orthopaedic centres in order to treat and rehabilitate those who have been disabled, thus allowing them to lead an active life again.
The Landmine Monitor has described Abkhazia as a mine-affected area since the Abkhaz conflict of 1993. Between 1997 and 1999, a number of assessments have been undertaken by the ICRC, the British mine-clearing organization HALO Trust and the Georgian Committee of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) to gauge the mine problem in Georgia/Abkhazia. These assessments indicated that Abkhazia was the area worst affected by mines, with Georgia having isolated pockets of mine-affected communities owing to their proximity to strategic facilities reportedly mined and to mined stretches of the border, in particular the border with the Russian republics of Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia.
Abkhazia remains the most heavily mined area with the greatest danger for civilians. HALO Trust carried out a level-1 survey (basic survey designed to identify and record all known and suspected mined areas) in 1999-2000. The minefields were subsequently marked and prioritized for clearance. Today the priority areas (in Sukhumi, Ochamchire and Gali regions) are being cleared. The most heavily mined area is Ochamchire, although the biggest threat to civilians is now in Gali, a border district where some 60,000 internally displaced persons are currently living.
It has been confirmed that additional minefields were laid in October 2001 in connection with the security situation in Kodori Gorge. As a result, civilians as well as CIS peace-keeping troops have been involved in accidents in previously safe areas.
The Association of Invalids with Spinal Injuries maintains a mine-victim database. The Abkhaz ICBL Committee is also involved in gathering data. Information is shared with others including the relevant authorities and the Abkhaz Mine Action Centre, which is entirely supported by the HALO Trust. The Centre is in the process of establishing a mine-victim database for Abkhazia.
The Georgian border with Russia along the republics of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia was also reportedly mined – on the Georgian side – owing to the situation in Chechnya. These mines were subsequently removed, though their complete removal is in doubt following an accident involving Georgian Border Guards on the Ingush stretch of the border. The air-scatterable anti-personnel landmine called PFM-1 is also to be found on the Georgian side of the border. Civilian accidents have occurred in the area, though those most at risk are the Border Guards.
Media reports indicate that there has been an increase in the number of accidents along the border with Azerbaijan.
Strategic facilities are reported to be mined. These facilities include ex-Soviet military bases, which were used for live-ammunition training exercises and where, in addition to mines, there thus remains a great deal of unexploded ordnance.
These mined areas, in particular the ex-military bases, is posing a growing threat to the civilian population as the economic situation deteriorates: over the past 10 years the perimeter fencing has disappeared. The result is that herdsman are no longer able to see the boundary between the military base and the land they use for grazing. A related problem is the collecting of scrap metal from the military bases. The faltering economy has prompted people to look for new sources of income. Scrap metal is reportedly one of Georgia's main exports. UXO is collected and dismantled, and the explosive used to make hunting bullets for personal use and for sale. Unexploded ordnance is sometimes stockpiled in private houses as well as in police stations to which it is handed over by the public. Both children and adults have been the victims of resulting accidents.
The HALO Trust began mine clearance work in Georgia in 1997 and, together with the local authorities, set up the Abkhaz Mine Action Centre (AMAC) in 1999. AMAC coordinates work that includes gathering information, raising mine awareness and clearing mines. Helping mine victims is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health. The ICRC provides medical supplies and supports the limb-fitting centre in Gagra and the rehabilitation centre run by the Association of Invalids with Spinal Injuries.
The primary function of HALO Trust’s mine-awareness work is to gather information on mined and UXO-contaminated areas and so that these can be identified and prioritized for marking and clearance. Information continues to be gathered on the whereabouts of mines/UXO by means of both actual surveys and mine-awareness work. In addition, people contact HALO Trust directly with information.
Information-gathering as a component of mine-awareness work was discussed during Halo Trust's initial assessment of the situation and it was decided to include appeals for information in the sessions.
In Abkhazia, one of the main target groups for mine awareness has been children. They are reached from September to June in schools (including kindergarten) through interactive presentations (i.e. during those presentations, children are asked questions and discuss issues). Puppets are used to explain the dangers from mines and UXO and to give basic advice on how to avoid them. A new puppet show was filmed in mid-August 2002 and broadcast on television.
Children are also v iewed as a primary means of disseminating mine information and advice to other people, including adults, in the affected communities.
In the survey carried out by HALO Trust, adults – in particular farmers – were also identified as those most at risk and were targeted mainly during the summer months, the focus being a workers tea factory since the factory was mined during the conflict. Community discussions are being carried out in Ochamchire district with an emphasis on parents and their role within the mine-awareness programme.
Additional groups at risk (identifiable through analysis of the mine-victim information available) are the CIS peace-keeping forces and staff of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, who also help collect casualty data and forward it to HALO Trust. The Trust is providing mine/UXO awareness training and presentations to any interested groups at risk as well as national and international organizations. To date, it has reached over 45,000 Abkhaz in schools and community meetings. It also continues to provide other organizations with information about the location of dangerous areas.
Two types of promotional copybooks were distributed during classroom presentations in 1999. A colouring book featuring the characters used in the puppet show and posters (showing mines, the most common UXO found in Abkhazia and the minefield marking sign in use) have been produced by HALO Trust and are distributed to schools and other institutions. Billboards have been placed along the roads and in mine-affected areas. The minefield marking sign used by HALO Trust is also shown.
A TV documentary produced by HALO Trust describes the general effects of mines and the history of the Trust's work in Abkhazia. It shows what mines look like and how to detect signs of their presence. All the mark ings used for mined areas are also presented in the film and the areas themselves are identified. A short portion of the film is dedicated to the Halo Trust mine-awareness programmes in Abkhazia. It also features two interviews with victims of mine accidents.
Abkhaz people displaced by the fighting to western Georgia are most at risk since they frequently return home to visit elderly relatives and to harvest nuts and seasonal fruit. Many of these'border'crossings are carried out at illegal points – through mined areas and at night – rather than via the official crossing area. Therefore, since 2000 HALO Trust has been doing mine-awareness work with people displaced from Abkhazia (primarily from Gali District, the border area between western Georgia and Abkhazia). The Trust’s main target group is children. Presentations are given at schools; posters and copybooks are distributed to the pupils. HALO Trust field officers also give presentations to other displaced people.
According to information collected by the Georgian Committee of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, 76 people were injured or killed in mine-related accidents throughout Georgia in 2001. Sixteen of them were children; two of these died. Most accidents involved more than one person and the main activity at the time of the accident was the collecting of scrap metal.
An ICRC feasibility study carried out in May 1998 identified the need for a mine-awareness programme to be established as a stand-alone activity in western Georgia and Abkhazia, and to be essentially self-sustaining.
HALO Trust has incorporated mine awarene ss into its ongoing mine-clearance work, which in turn benefits from the information collected through the mine-awareness activities. The ICRC liaised with it to ensure that both organizations agreed on one procedure for gathering information, putting it to use and making it known. They continue to use this procedure.
In 2000, HALO Trust approached the ICRC office in Zugdidi for help in organizing mine-awareness presentations for displaced people at risk in western Georgia. Joint presentations by the ICRC and the Trust were made during 2000 and 2001 at centres for the displaced. In November 2001 with the support of HALO Trust, which had found problems with the materials it was using in mine-awareness raising and that further staff training was needed, the ICRC looked at how it could support the mine-awareness work.
The resulting study showed that although most people are aware that mines pose a danger to them, they do not know how to behave in a mined environment. This was emphasized by a number of displaced people who related an accident involving five children that had occurred in the spring of 2001. They said that it would not have happened had the victims been informed about what to do and what not to do when in a mined area. The study, in particular the discussions with the displaced community, has enabled ICRC to set up a training programme for those engaged in mine-awareness activities and to work out a strategy for the future.
The study concluded that there was no need for the ICRC to set up independent mine-awareness projects and that existing ones should be supported, the main concern being that neither those putting across the message nor those receiving it grow complacent, that people be reminded of the danger as long as it persists and that they be able to apply the information that they receive. It was agreed with HALO Trust that the ICRC would play an'advisory'role in the form of support for trainin g.
The ICRC designed a training programme and a six-day mine-awareness course was given to five HALO Trust staff (the programme manager and four field officers). Two of them are now working in the Ochamchire and Sukhumi areas while the other two are working in the Gali area and with displaced people in the Zugdidi district. The training has focused on the “community-based approach” and emphasized methods of identifying groups at risk and the key advice to be given to them. The trainees spent five days in a classroom and one day in affected communities using a questionnaire designed to find out from local people what materials and approach would be best suited to the situation and field-testing their conclusions.
Using the information and knowledge acquired during the ICRC training, the HALO Trust staff prepared a long-term mine-awareness strategy and a detailed work plan for 2002. ICRC staff have since met regularly with HALO Trust personnel to give follow-up advice.
Information given to the ICRC is forwarded to HALO Trust, which then takes it up with the community concerned. The Trust's plans for marking, clearance and disposal are shared with the ICRC so that these can in turn can be provided to those who originally gave information to the ICRC.