Unexploded Ordnance in Gaza a Real Threat to Kids
GAZA, 28 June 2005 - Ahmad stares blankly into the air as his mother describes how an innocuous-looking canister exploded in her son’s hands on an otherwise normal spring day in the Gaza Strip border town of Rafah. The 10-year-old boy was passing through a sandy field while on his way home from Fourth Grade final exams. Weeks of study were behind him and he was happily looking forward to the long days of summer.
Perhaps it was a combination of curiosity and bad timing that nearly brought his life to an end. Spotting a spray paint canister, Ahmad picked it up and started to bang it with a stone. His cousin became suspicious of the device and urged Ahmad to throw it away. But the plea came too late. It exploded, sending shards of shrapnel into Ahmad’s stomach, hand and legs and injuring his cousin.. Says Ahmad: “I didn’t know what it was. No one told me about such things.”
The once a curious, playful boy has turned inward and unmotivated. Ahmad suffers from frequent nightmares and is afraid to go outside to play.
Says the mother: "My son used to be very curious. He likes to dismantle things. There's no libraries or computers in Rafah. There's nothing for kids like Ahmad to do with their peers. So kids here can easily get into trouble."
Ahmad’s parents say this and other incidents could have been avoided: if only their kids had more access to safe play areas and if only there were more outreach efforts to educate kids on the hazards of unexploded ordnance - small devices loaded with explosives that have been left behind by both sides in this long-running conflict.
Indeed, between September 2000 and end of May 2005, 26 children were killed and 120 injured by such objects. Three children were killed and 13 injured in the first four months of this year alone.
UNICEF is supporting a Mine Risk Education project and Alternative Safe Play Areas are being set-up to keep kids busy – and away from dangerous areas. Funding for both is being provided by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
Says Ahmad, in one of his few utterances, during a recent visit: "I want to tell other kids not to play with anything in the streets."