|© UNICEF Ethiopia/ Guillaume Bonn/2004|
|UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Danny Glover watches an anti-landmine demonstration.|
By Sarah Crowe
ZALAMBESSA, Ethiopia, 26 November 2004 – It was a scene straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster. In a blur of dust and dancing figures, the entire population of this village streamed onto the main road, white-robed women ululating and swaying, children running and clapping.
Heading the procession, like latter-day warriors, were two riders, cloaks billowing, their snorting stallions bedecked in green, red and gold. It was as if this procession symbolized a newfound freedom for a village that was in ruins only months ago.
Emerging from their newly repaired homes, the crowd presented bunches of bright plastic flowers to UNICEF’S new Goodwill Ambassador Danny Glover, and to UNICEF’s Representative in Ethiopia Björn Ljungqvist. These two seemed almost to float on a sea of people. Photographers held cameras high to capture the extraordinary sight.
Lethal legacy of war
Zalambessa, in a war-ravaged region on the Ethiopian border with Eritrea, was completely flattened during the war between the two countries, which forced as many as 364,000 people to flee their homes. The region is still littered with landmines.
The harsh reality of the war’s lethal legacy was brought home to Danny Glover when he donned his blue de-mining vest and visor and walked through a heavily mined field just 10 km down the road.
That same road had been cleared of mines in the past six months. An assortment of 345 unexploded ordinances had been removed.
And a stone’s throw from that road and that mine field was the Asda Tesfa primary school, where 22 children still bore the scars of a war that ended more than four years ago. Young boys and girls at the UNICEF-supported school told Glover how some of them had lost friends, others limbs and one boy had lost his eye in a landmine explosion.
|© UNICEF Ethiopia/ Guillaume Bonn/2004|
|UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Danny Glover visits an Ethiopian minefield.|
The ‘pen’ was a detonator
“I was out walking in Togoza near Zalambessa one day four years ago and I bent down to pick up a pen that was laying a little hidden in the soil,” Haftay Gabrelibanos told us. But it was not a pen, it was a detonator – and it blew off half his left hand.
The children’s tragic stories had a similar pattern. Four years ago Mebrhtom Kahsay, now 14, was out herding goats with his friend in the Boklo district. His friend walked over a landmine and died from the resulting blast; the shrapnel shattered Mebrhtom’s face and he lost the sight of one eye. The pain is still with him.
Mkiale Gebreslase, now 17, has already had three major operations at the Adigrat hospital nearby for the shrapnel buried deep inside his body. He bears a huge horizontal scar on his chest and belly. Mkiale has trouble eating, as large sections of his colon had to be removed. He is constantly in pain. The doctors say any further attempt to remove the shrapnel would be too dangerous.
These were just some of the 550 mine incidents that were reported in Ethiopia between 1998 and 2003. Many incidents are not reported at all.
Today peace has come, but many mines remain. The young survivors of landmine incidents teach other children to be aware of the risk of mines. They warn them, through theatre and music, to curb their natural curiosity, to watch out when they’re herding goats or collecting water; not to pick up any metal object on the ground and to avoid picking cactus and other wild fruit. In short, to try not to be children.
Danny Glover listens to children – and takes action
Danny Glover met these children and listened to their stories. The injustice and cruelty of what has happened angered him, and prompted him to call on nations that continue to stockpile and produce anti-personnel mines to ratify the Mine Ban Treaty.
“It is the most painful thing to see how young children become collateral damage of wars,” said Glover. “I listened to children who had dreams and wanted to follow this great Ethiopian tradition and become athletes. But they couldn’t because they lost their legs.”
“It’s all very well to have peace treaties but landmines do not respect these accords. And as long as these silent killers linger after wars, children will never know peace.”
The Summit for a Mine Free World
Danny Glover’s visit to Ethiopia came on the eve of the Nairobi Summit for a Mine Free World, the first review conference on the implementation and progress of the treaty which came into force in 1999. To date 143 countries have fully ratified the treaty, but many nations are yet to sign the ban. These include the top mine-producing and stockpiling nations: China, with a stockpile of 110 million anti-personnel mines; Russia with 50 million; and the United States with 10.4 million.
UNICEF applauded the Ethiopian Government for taking the “first bold steps” to ratify the treaty, and encouraged it to speed up the process.
The landmine ban treaty gives countries 10 years to get rid of all their landmines. Since the treaty came into force, four million antipersonnel mines have been destroyed worldwide. Funding for mine action -- which includes mine risk education, victim assistance and the destruction of stockpiles -- has increased by 80 per cent. But mine action requires a lot of money: It takes $3 to lay a mine but $1000 to remove it, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
“This shows very clearly that a great deal has been done and the treaty is indeed working. Much more needs to be done though as 10 years is a long time and thousands can and do die each year,” said Björn Ljungqvist, UNICEF’s Representative in Ethiopia.
The rights and protection of children affected by conflict are central to UNICEF’s mandate. In the past five years UNICEF’s Mine Risk Education programmes have expanded from 10 to 34 countries, working in the countries most seriously contaminated by mines.
UNICEF assists governments worldwide in the campaign for universal ratification of the Mine Ban Treaty by advocating for the destruction of landmines, by ensuring that new landmines are not procured or laid and by helping clear the explosive remnants of war where they are still found.
Fact sheet: Children and landmines [PDF]