Author: Taylor, S.
Somalia has been the site of a range of military and paramilitary conflicts during the last 30 years. Such conflicts have left, in their wake, ordnance contamination in the form of landmines and of the wider range of unexploded ordnance (UXO).
Purpose / Objective
The objective of the present feasibility study is to help to determine whether mine/UXO awareness programme is required in Somalia, and whether it can be integrated within overall mine action. The specific objective of the study is to offer a preliminary overview of:
- the extent of the threat related to the existence of mine/UXO in Somalia;
- the location and size of the areas affected;
- the severity of the impact on the population;
- the scope of existing mine action initiatives; and
- the need and urgency for additional programmatic responses.
The study focused on interviews with programme designers and implementers, and review of existing information. Interviews were conducted with staff members from UNICEF, European Commission Somalia Unit, UNDP, UNDOS, UNHCR, CARE and other non-governmental organizations. During the study, a few focus group discussions were carried out in some specific location with local communities in order to better understand behaviours and practices occurring, people's perceptions, feelings, opinions, and other socio-cultural factors that could have relationships with the objectives of the study. Field visits were made to several different areas throughout Somaliland, Puntland and Central and Southern Somalia, notably Gabiley East minefield, Arabsiyo minefield, Adadley minefield clearance site, Qoryolely District, Kurtunwaarey District, Tayeglow and the Somaliland-Ethiopia border areas.
Key Findings and Conclusions
Landmines: The number of landmines deployed in Somaliland is often quoted at between 1 and 2 million; the reality may be as low as 50-100,000. Puntland has been attributed up to 1 million; again, a more realistic figure would be 25-50,000. There are no formal estimates for the fragmented centre and south (for obvious reasons), but while common association with the northern zones -- and the evidence of historical and ongoing conflict -- have allowed the informal assumption of major contamination, the mine problem appears, once again, to be relatively small-scale and sporadic. In addition to political and economic incentives to inflate landmine numbers, surveys have been partial and sometimes of poor quality with regard to the critical evaluation of reports and over-reporting.
A distinction should be made between landmines in minefields along the Somali-Ethiopia border, and mines laid elsewhere in the eastward interior. Defensive border fields constitute a relatively high density of mined land, while further into Somalia -- along roads, rivers, routes, tracks, and around villages, towns and strategic sites -- formal fields are somewhat replaced by nuisance, random mine laying, and actually clear land unused due to suspicion of contamination. Local awareness of formal border and other minefields appears to be high and effectively protective of local population engaged in viable daily livelihoods. Awareness of random and nuisance mining is disputed -- ultimately, for these, awareness is unreliable. Thus, with landmines in Somalia, the major risk and hence target for awareness is represented by the fewer number of mines, and ones in broadly unanticipated locations.
UXO: Somaliland, Puntland and Central and Southern Zone (CSZ) all contain considerably higher numbers of UXO than of deployed landmines (running into hundreds of thousands of items). The most common of these are: grenades, fuze units, artillery shells, RPGs and mortars. UXO constitutes a danger to the population predominantly as surface contamination. It is visible and accessible -- particularly (according to accident profiles) to children. It is ranged fairly randomly throughout local environments -- collected in substantial stocks at former camps, scattered over large areas in the aftermath of attacks on depots, and deposited or dumped in the backward and forward motions of battlefield campaigns.
Community Mine Awareness:
Awareness of formal minefields is high, and community impact consequently relatively low (though, in many cases, retarding socio-economic development); awareness of random mine clusters is low with respect to location; awareness of UXO is high with respect to location but low with respect to the threat it poses. In terms of overall socio-economic impact, mines may be said to be the major issue. In terms of specific loss of life and limb, UXO is, at least, as great a threat.
Indigenous "awareness" can actually increase risk-exposure, where it constitutes straightforward over-confidence. Further, awareness does not cover random mine clusters comprehensively -- leaving some unknown and unsuspected. Local awareness does not address the changing cost-benefit evaluations of communities through e.g. periods of good and bad harvest; and awareness does not sufficiently cover the problems and risks of UXO.
In Somaliland, there have been a few relatively small-scale campaigns in mine-awareness. These have had limited impact. People in urban and rural areas are familiar with mines and UXO -- both in discussion and in physical recognition. Government has not taken on a significant role in advising local communities about danger and risk mitigation; this has been left to international and national NGOs, whose work has been of variable approach and standard.
In Puntland, no significant COA work has been done -- largely due to a broad lack of awareness of the actual scale and specifics of Puntland's UXO and mine status, and a consequent general feeling of its low priority in the ranking of development needs. The Puntland administration has established a Department of Demining, which has been conducting census work in the three regions. In the course of this, it is claimed that basic safety advice has been provided for communities.
In the Central and Southern Zone, there has, again, been no discernible COA impact. There is a significant lack of local NGOs with appropriate capacity to work as implementers or partners, and other international agencies have either focused on straight clearance work (UNOSOM) or on more emergency-oriented interventions (feeding, EPI etc.). Awareness in settled areas of the CSZ is relatively high, but in combat zones falls behind shifting front-line mine areas, which causes periodic disjuncture between new danger areas, and the local level of safety-enabling knowledge.
Community Mine Awareness work to-date in Somalia has been non-direct contact (distance) communication-oriented, and mostly short-term (though interesting and high-quality direct community contact work is presently being carried out by Mine Tech in Somaliland). Mine awareness campaigns have mostly followed conventional forms of poster, pamphlet, teaching aids, etc. Approaches have been diverse and contradictory. They have focused on landmines (to the substantial exclusion of UXO), and on images and messages that emphasise the negative aspects of ordnance contamination (as opposed to the positive aspects of community-government-international agency responses to that contamination).
The major issues for awareness in Somalia are:
- The need for proper landmine and UXO contamination surveying and impact mapping;
- The need for full impact assessment, including community knowledge and behaviours with regard to mines and UXO;
- The development of ordnance contamination health and socio-economic impact profiles for Somalia; and the consequent development of parameters for ordnance safety messages and communications;
- The need for an institutional-level unit to coordinate the above activities, and feed them -- through guidance and stakeholder liaison -- into effective and harmonised mine-awareness campaigns and clearance operations.
The situation regarding landmines and UXO contamination is not at crisis or emergency level in Somalia. Numerical levels of mines are relatively low. Accident rates are relatively low. And communities are employing indigenous awareness to mitigate ordnance-related environmental constraints (such as land and transport denial), living with ordnance, with a significant degree of success and safety. Clearly, however, there are still humanitarian issues concerning life and limb, and socio-economic development. Mine action is, without question, a legitimate area of Somali programming.
However, a current fashion for COA in such programming should not act as a springboard or lever by which lead agencies such as UNICEF leap or are drawn into knee-jerk intervention. Mine awareness may be seen as the easier end of mine action, but that is precisely why a certain part of community mine (or ordnance) awareness has produced quick, formulaic, unthought-out, low-quality, low-impact work. With a couple of specific provisos, Somalia does not provide the rationale or the opportunity for yet another standard mine awareness campaign-style intervention.
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Child Protection - Landmines