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Afghanistan - ICRC mine action programme - February 2002

18-04-2002 Operational Update

The Mine Action Program has a two fold approach : the data collection program provides a better understanding of the problem and the mine awareness sessions promotes safe behaviour to the population at risk.

Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mine and UXO (Unexploded Ordnances) affected countries in the world. Probably millions of such devices are scattered over more than 1300 square kilometres in the country. Mines and UXOs claim over 100 deaths or injuries every month and some 200.000 handicapped survivors after two decades of conflict.

In addition to the human toll, mines/UXO kill valuable livestock, deny people access to farm and grazing land, shelter or water, prevent rehabilitation of essential infrastructures such as roads, bridges, irrigation systems, schools and result in major losses to both Afghan economy and society.

Following the crisis in October 2001, new areas were contaminated by coalition's UXOs, mined former frontline areas have been reopened to the population, displaced persons are coming home unaware of the threat.

The ICRC is involved in orthopaedic and rehabilitation assistance to the victims (see specific Briefing Note) but also aims at preventing further incidents of injuries and fatalities caused by these devices. The Mine Action Program has a two fold approach : the data collection program provides a better understanding of the problem and the mine awareness sessions promotes safe behaviour to the population at risk.


 Mine Data Collection  

To establish a clear picture on the circumstance of landmine/UXO incidents, the ICRC interviews victims through a well-established network of over 300 health clinics and hospitals supported by the ICRC, the ARCS or NGOs (AMI, NAC, SCA, HealthNet, IbnSina).

In addition the ICRC has recently started to train village volunteers who will extend this network and collect information even when victims do not go through the health structures.

The information collected (activity at the time of the incident, location, injuries suffered, medical treatment) is used to identify contaminated areas and to set priorities in surveying, demining, mine awareness training activities and for victim assistance projects. 

The ICRC provides at present over 80% of the data concerning mine/UXO victims that is regularly shared with the 15 agencies of the Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan (MAPA). Last year the ICRC interviewed over 1000 victims, mainly men and boys. Roughly half of which were injured by UXOs.

 Mine Awareness Activities  

In order to change risky behaviours and reduce the number of casualties, the ICRC together with the Afghan Red Crescent Society uses a variety of strategies to deliver preventive messages, tailored to the local situation.

In each village visited, the teams work together with the villagers to draw a map of the mine/UXOs affected areas to make sure everybody realises where the danger is. They organise sessions for adults and for children with posters and pictures to show what mines and UXOs look like and to teach preventive behaviour. They organise role plays where each participant develops an argumentation to prevent a friend or an villager to go into a dangerous area. They try to identify the reasons for high risk behaviours often linked to economic or social pressure. They also alert the MAPA when demining or clearance of ammunitions is needed, and they refer patients to the orthopedic centers.

The areas to visit in priority are identified in co-ordination with the Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan (MAPA).

Prior to 11th September 2001, 4 mine awareness teams were operating in Kabul and Wardak provinces located in the central region. The priority is now given to the Parwan province, north of Kabul, where areas of former frontlines, heavily contaminated by mines and UXOs, are again accessible by the population and returnees. In 2001, two additional teams were set up and trained as emergency response teams.

Every month more than 100 sessions are attended by about 6000 adults and children. 

 Cluster Bombs : some preventive messages on a renewed threat  

Cluster bombs that contain hundreds of bomblets were used in the recent air strikes. Numerous cluster bomblets reportedly remain unexploded. These bomblets are meant to explode upon impact but some fail to do so and remain on the ground ready to explode at the slightest touch.

The size and the color of the bomblet is unfortunately very attractive to people and especially children. The ICRC Mine Action teams interviewed since November about 70 patients injured by these bomblets and focus specifically on this threat during mine awareness sessions.