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Case studies - Report from the minefields – Bosnia, Albania and Afghanistan two years after Ottawa

01-03-2001 News Release 01/08

While the Ottawa treaty has undoubtedly done much to diminish the devastating effects of landmines, thousands of people go on paying the price for the countless devices still hidden in the soil of mine-infested countries around the world. Though it cooperates wherever possible with mine-clearance organizations in countries with a significant mine problem, the ICRC has focused its efforts on providing surgical care for the victims and playing a preventive role by alerting people to the danger by means of wide-ranging awareness programmes. This approach has played a significant part in helping to reduce the number of mine incidents.

 Bosnia-Herzegovina – Mine problem five years on  

In the five years of peace since the Dayton Agreement was signed, more than 1,250 Bosnian – mainly civilians – have been killed or injured by landmines. This deadly legacy of the fighting (mines litter towns and cities as well as agricultural land) has proved a major obstacle to many who are trying to rebuild their lives.

In 1996, a year after the war ended, the ICRC launched a mine-awareness programme that today encompasses data gathering and work with school children, including presentations, competitions and a successful theatre play. Local Red Cross instructors, trained by the ICRC, are also conducting a range of other community-based activities across the country.

The programme, which is currently being taken over by the local Red Cross, has helped to reduce the number of accidents from an average of 50 per month, in 1996, to eight in 2000.

This week, local Red Cross branches throughout the country have been putting up colourful street banners to mark the second anniversary of the entry into force, on 1 March 1999, of the Ottawa treaty banning the production and use of landmines. The giant banners read Misli Mine! (think mines!) in red, yellow and black lettering on a white background. Bosnia-Herzegovina was one of the first countries to sign and ratify the treaty.

Following the banners, a massive, countrywide billboard campaign will get underway in mid-April as a further reminder to people about the dangers they face from anti-personnel mines and unexploded ordnance as they go about their daily lives.

" March and April are among the high-risk months for rural communities " , explained Vanja Bojinovic, the ICRC’s national mine-awareness coordinator in Sarajevo. " With the long winter over, farmers are out ploughing their fields and working in the woods, where mines may be lurking. "

 Albania – the lingering tragedy of mines  

Farie and Rush live not far away from each other. However, visits between the 61-year-old and the 56-year-old cousins have become rare. Two years ago, they set out to graze their flocks, but strayed from well-trodden pathways. They had heard about mines, but never imagined that anything could happen to them. Rush stepped on a mine with her left foot. When her cousin went to help her, she suffered the same fate. Amputation was unavoidable. Now, despite their artificial legs, both women find it hard to get about.

In this remote and mountainous area of Albania near the Kosovo border, people tend not t o complain about their problems. But Farie and Rush obviously find it difficult to come to terms with their disability, viewing themselves as incapable of contributing to their families’ welfare. A visit from Albanian Red Cross staff and ICRC delegates has brought at least a degree of relief. Losing a leg has made it difficult for the women to fulfil as they see fit their roles as wives of hardworking farmers. The food provided by the Red Cross, however, is helping them recover some of their dignity. Putting more varied and interesting fare on the family table enables Farie and Rush to view themselves as worthwhile rather than as charity cases.


 Mine victims in Afghanistan – the suffering continues  

In March last year, seven-year-old Zar Gullah found herself drawn to a shiny piece of metal lying in a field close to her home in Nangarhar province, east of Kabul. As in thousands of other cases around the world, the natural curiosity of a child had catastrophic consequences for her.

Zar picked up her new plaything and ran off to show her family. Her mother, who suddenly realized what Zar had in her hands, was reaching out for her when the mine exploded, blowing off part of the house’s roof. Zar's two brothers, 13-year-old Mohammed Alam and 11-year-old Sheer Alam, who had been sleeping along with a third brother, were killed. Zar survived the accident, but had to have her leg amputated. Less than two months later she was learning to walk again with a prosthesis made for her by the ICRC limb-fitting centre in Kabul. To this day, despite her constant questions as to the whereabouts of her brothers, her mother has been unable to bring herself to tell the truth.

Afghanistan is today one of the world’s most mine-ridden countries. Between April 1998 and December 2000, the ICRC registered 2,686 victims of landmines and unexploded ordnance. " That comes to three victims every day”, remarks Laurence Desvignes, the ICRC’s mine-awareness coordinator. “These figures are very disturbing, especially if one considers that we are certainly not aware of all cases. But our information-gathering system, like the programme itself, is improving. " Mine victims are registered both in the hospitals, some of which receive major ICRC support, and the organization's five limb-fitting centres in Afghanistan.