Author: Fonseka, A.; Tudor Silva, K.; Jayasena, A.
The Mine Risk Education (MRE) programme, supported by UNICEF, is an important component in Sri Lanka's mine action programme. It has been implemented since 1997 in the Jaffna district and in the Vanni region, in close co-ordination with the United Nation’s Development Programme (UNDP). Having started with a limited range of tools and approaches, MRE has now reached a professional standard where a diverse range of methods is deployed. As it stands today, MRE attempts to make use of tried and tested tools to promote mine-safe behaviour. UNICEF-supported MRE is implemented through local partner agencies who, in turn, work through trainers, animators and field co-ordinators. Many tools of small and mass media are used to impart MRE.
The overall objective is to assess the relevance, effectiveness, impact and sustainability of the mine risk education programme, taking into consideration the targets set, resources available and opportunities and constraints associated with the changing project environment. The specific objectives of the evaluation consist of the following:
Field research was carried out in a total of 6 Divisional Secretary (DS) divisions consisting of three DS divisions in Jaffna and 2 in Vanni and one in the Trincomale District. UNICEF-supported MRE had been carried out to varying extents in the selected DS divisions in Jaffna and Vanni. The Morawewa DS division in the Trincomalee district, which was outside the area served by the MRE programme under review, was covered in this study for comparative purposes (i.e. as the control area). Information was collected from a variety of sources as specified below:
Findings and Conclusions:
During the survey, it was found that nearly 99% of the target communities had heard about landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXO). Given the low literacy rates and lack of access to mass media channels, particularly in Vanni, this figure is indicative of active information dissemination about the topic. Only about 15% of the people personally knew of others who were injured and only 30% had actually seen a mine/UXO. Therefore, it is clear that the rest of the people were made aware of mines through one or more secondary information channels. It can therefore be inferred that MRE, either through mass or small media, had been instrumental in forming these information channels. Acquaintance with mines was equally high in the control area, ruling out the possibility that MRE is the only source of information about mines in the population studied. There are, however, other evidence that suggests that MRE does feed some of the relevant information channels in the project areas.
The control area showed a higher incidence of mine/UXO injuries compared to project areas studied. This finding is significant in view of the following features: the threat of mines may be lower in the control area relative to some of the heavily-mined project sites/former battle fields in Jaffna and Vanni; there were many people within the control area who were familiar with mines through 'Home guard' training; and that Displacement is less of a problem in the control area. As a result, mine-risk has not been enhanced through large-scale return of IDPs, characteristic of Jaffna and Vanni.
Therefore, it can be deemed that systematic- and grassroots-level MRE has contributed toward an increased level of mine risk awareness in Jaffna and Vanni. Given the fact that the de-mining process itself does not automatically result in risk awareness, it is clear that MRE has played a vital role in increasing awareness.
It was also found that people in MRE target areas had a more realistic assessment of mine risks, including correct identification of warning signs and risk avoidance behaviours, which could only have stemmed from a sound source of training/information rather than mere presumptive speculation.
According to Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA) data, mine injuries island-wide has consistently decreased over the years since 1998, except for a sudden rise in 2000, caused by mass resettlement of internally-displaced people (IDPs). How far this reduction can be attributed to MRE as distinct from de-mining is difficult to estimate but, as highlighted above, there is a clear link between MRE and risk awareness. Correct mine-risk awareness leads to mine-safe behaviour which, in turn, can prevent injuries.
The Vanni area has been exposed to a wider variety of UNICEF-supported MRE programme tools compared to Jaffna, in spite of the fact that Vanni was more isolated from mainstream information channels such as national newspapers and radio. The highest impact on risk avoidance behaviour patterns was found in urban centers (e.g. Nallur). Higher level of education in the urban centers may have also contributed to this trend.
In the overall assessment on MRE tools, it was found that communities and school children had a tendency to prefer drama and animation/games-based tools. In particular, communities with comparatively low educational levels favorably responded to such tools. Presentations and lectures as well as posters and billboards were more effective with relatively educated adult audiences.
During the course of the programme, the MRE messages have been reviewed and re-designed with a significant focus on imparting 'positive messages'. On the whole, this approach has yielded a mitigation of adverse psychological consequences, particularly among school children. However, some members of beneficiary communities who had viewed the drama performances were of the opinion that the resulting de-emphasis on the 'catastrophic/phenomenal' content of the messages may have led to a marginal reduction in impact.
On the whole, the local communities and institutions tended to have a sympathetic and, at the same time, a positive image about surviving mine victims. This, in turn, may be at least partly attributed to MRE, including deployment of such victims as agents of MRE, by UNICEF.
This evaluation also identified a few problems affecting the current MRE activities and some possible remedial action. First, MRE programmes conducted in communities during daylight hours do not reach their full potential because a majority of working males are away from homes at such times. Considering that young working males are the most vulnerable to mine injury, it was found that a mechanism to carry out presentations during early evening hours would overcome this problem.
Second, the existing data on mine injuries indicate a need for increased and more focused MRE, particularly among children. According to IMSMA records, among adult victims, the percentage of landmine victims is higher than the percentage of UXO victims. The percentages are reversed when it comes to children, clearly indicating that children have a higher tendency to tamper with UXOs. However, as elaborated later on in the report, the overall percentage of adult, landmine/UXO victims is much higher than children. And, overall landmine injuries outnumber UXO injuries.
Third, in spite of MRE, unauthorized de-mining and UXO tampering continue to be reported in some of the project areas. Untrained people clear mines on their own either out of personal need or as a means to earn good income. While, there is a marked decline in the problem since 1998, when mine action commenced, the practice has by no means disappeared in the project areas. Two radically different approaches to address this problem are available. One is to enforce a ban on all forms of unauthorized de-mining. The other is to train identified persons for basic de-mining operations as part of community-based de-mining programmes. The evaluation team does not have enough information to recommend one approach or the other, but we suggest that the risks and benefits of each approach be carefully weighed in the light of ground realities in the Northeast, before adopting one approach or the other or a combination of both.
Fourth, deliberate oblivion to mine risk was also reported in some instances. In some situations, people tended to ignore mine risks for the sake of continuing their livelihood. MRE needs to recognize this issue and evolve a dialogue with relevant population groups, with a view to identifying suitable messages and safer options open to the relevant groups.
Key recommendations for the future are:
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