Author: Provoost, C.
The presence of Landmines and UXO in Afghanistan for more than two decades poses a real threat. Their effects have indiscriminate consequences on the population, especially children, and a disastrous impact on social and economic life. Since 1989, a mature and well-implemented Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan (MAPA) brings a comprehensive and complementary response to the magnitude of the crisis and integrates Mine Awareness Education within its plan of action. Responding to the wish expressed by MAPA to see UNICEF play a more important role in Afghanistan as the UN focal point for Mine Awareness Education, UNICEF now wishes to study the conditions to durably integrate the existing Mine Action process, develop its own Mine Awareness Education capacity and play a more consistent role in Afghanistan.
Purpose / Objective
UNICEF Afghanistan Country Office (ACO) contracted a consultant in June 2001 to undertake a study on the role of UNICEF in Landmine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) awareness education in Afghanistan, and make short, medium and long-term recommendations for a UNICEF action-plan on enhancing its role in landmine awareness issues in Afghanistan.
In addition to the review of literature and ongoing initiatives, the consultant conducted interviews with UNICEF's Afghanistan Country Office and MAPA personnel, as well as representatives from agencies involved in Mine Awareness Education projects within and outside MAPA. The consultant visited the Kabul and Kandahar UNICEF and MAPA regional offices as well as ongoing OMAR, SCF-US and Handicap International Mine Awareness Education activities in these regions.
Key Findings and Conclusions
To date, Mine Awareness Education in Afghanistan is a compilation of various initiatives, which have led to a collection of projects using a range of methodologies, curricula, messages and materials in a challenging attempt to meet the needs of the diverse socio-economic status and living conditions of the populations affected by landmines. Though laudable, MAPA's considerable efforts to systematise and homogenise this patchwork often collide with the necessity to rapidly respond to the urgent needs of the most endangered populations, such as nomadic populations, Internally Displaced Persons and refugees returning home.
Strengthening Mine Victim Data Collection:
Despite 11 years of Mine Action in Afghanistan, the collection of reliable data is still in a very poor state and just does not respond to the magnitude of the mine problem. As the MAPA estimates the number of monthly mine victims between 150 and 500, the sole praiseworthy effort of the ICRC to collect relevant information from 305 Afghan health facilities within their Mine Data Collection Programme is likely insufficient to give a complete picture of the number of mine victims.
Other NGOs and institutions are not likely aware enough of the considerable power of victim data as a planning tool to direct humanitarian action. As a result, a small number of stakeholders are involved in gathering data related to mine victims.
A relevant and systematic routine would offer a better image of the socio-economic mine victim status, including date of accident, location, cause of accident and risk taking behaviour, type of injuries, treatment received etc. In the long run, it would help to locate unknown mine fields, understand the behaviour leading to accidents, assess how socio-economic factors encourage risk taking, set strategic priorities for mine action and Mine Awareness Education, survey and mark minefields, improve Mine Awareness curriculum and targeting and secure better quality control and quality assurance.
Historically, much mine awareness training was delivered upon the assumption that mine and UXO incidents occurred because people had no knowledge of the dangers of mines. The messages were therefore delivered focusing on mine recognition and mine effects rather than avoidance.
Today, with hindsight, experience shows that other socio-economic factors affect behaviours and that people (especially children) may be aware of mines but still persist in taking risks. Despite this major observation, the change of environment and a likely better knowledge among the population, no major changes have been brought to curricula and, today, NGOs, with some exceptions, are generally still focusing on the same types of messages.
Also, the same messages may indifferently try to raise awareness regardless of the population concerned. Families, including males, children and sometimes women, are assembled in one place, receiving the same messages regardless of sex, age group and way of life. In most cases, there is little likelihood of using different messages, whether the populations are IDPs, nomadic populations or refugees.
In addition, mainly due to the existence of a mine clearance capacity in Afghanistan (and because the first agency to develop Mine Awareness Education in Afghanistan was also involved in mine clearance), mine awareness education has been seen more as a transitional step leading to final mine clearance. This characteristic may sometimes create high expectations from the communities receiving mine awareness messages and, consequently, generate high frustration when mine clearance teams are not able to quickly neutralise mines or UXO.
Over the years, a great deal of educational materials have been designed as a support to the messages. These materials have been largely distributed among the population. Although no clear distinction is being made between materials devoted to training (mine models, mine boards, silk-screens, games etc.) and public materials (posters, leaflets, brochures etc.), it seems that priority has been given to the second category.
Each agency has developed its own materials as the funding opportunities occurred. Today, with the exception of SCF-US for children and, to some extent, HI, there is no standardised material addressing a specific group. In addition, there is certainly a lack of teaching materials, including a proper teacher's guide aimed at steering the trainers along their progression.
Improving training capacity:
Despite the extension of the population groups given priority by MAPA, a small number of changes seem to have affected the existing curricula and working methods. Generally, the same traditional expert-delivery classroom lectures are being used whether the training is delivered to nomadic populations, IDPs, refugees, children or adults and, in some cases, training sessions more often come in more simple information sittings than a thorough education process.
In addition, no set curriculum has been properly designed to address the specific needs of one group within one targeted population in a specific environment. At best, existing curricula are more adapted to the audience as a category rather than to its actual way of life.
Enhancing upstream Training of Teachers (ToT) curricula through training sessions may be a response to update the existing community curricula and methodologies, and a unique occasion to refresh the training community on some Mine Awareness Education principles, as outlined in the UNICEF International Guidelines for Mine Awareness Education.
Yet, to-date, no agency has the capacity to conduct ToT sessions in order to respond in a systematic way to the new challenge constituted by the necessity to address the mine awareness needs of nomadic populations, IDPs and refugees, and also to access women and children within the existing population groups.
There is an urgent need to durably strengthen the Afghan Mine Victim Information System (AMVIS) involving a wider range of partners.
There is a need for a more comprehensive interactive process based on the experience of participants, encouraging exchange and participation in solution findings.
Elaborating proper operating procedures and strengthening monitoring capacities among operators, as well as facilitating experience sharing among MAPA partners, remain key elements to secure proper Quality Control over existing Mine Awareness Education projects.
There is a need to reinforce the existing training capacity within the existing mine awareness agencies in order to propose new structured alternatives, using appropriate messages, materials and curricula.
There is a need to reinforce mine avoidance messages and risk behaviour change over strict mine recognition and to categorise messages with regard to the populations and groups concerned. An opportunity may consist of emphasising the production of teaching materials and normalised public materials, primarily taking into account the literacy constraints between rural and urban areas.
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Child Protection - Landmines