|A representative of the UN Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan teaches schoolchildren about the dangers of landmines.|
KABUL, Afghanistan, 3 April 2008 – Landmines have killed or injured more than 70,000 Afghans in the last two decades, and they continue to cause hundreds more casualties each year.
As the United Nations prepares to mark the second annual International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action tomorrow, Afghans struggle to live a normal life with millions of deadly mines still buried in their country.
“Each month, 60 people on average fall victim to landmines or unexploded ordnance,” says the Programme Director of the UN Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan, Dr. Mohammed Reza. “Some are killed. Some survive but have become disabled.”
An obstacle to development
Over 30 years of war, landmines were planted throughout the country – too many to keep track of.
“We’re talking about people who’ve come [home] after years of being refugees, and farmers that want to plant their land,” Dr. Reza says. “Even the government ministries – for example, the Ministry of Public Works if they want to build roads, or the Ministry of Energy if they want to bring electricity to a city – they make mistakes and they do not see the mines. This is an obstacle for Afghanistan to develop or even be reconstructed.”
The UN supports mine awareness programmes throughout the country, and over 8,500 people work for its de-mining programme. But it’s a difficult, dangerous job. Since 1989, when the programme began, more than 860 de-miners have been killed or disabled, according to Dr. Reza.
Healthy schools, safe spaces
The enduring threat of mines is particularly worrying for parents.
“Children – being curious as they are – want to play and touch and explore,” says UNICEF Afghanistan’s Roshan Khadivi. “This can be a very fatal tendency in a heavily mined environment.”
|Rahmatuallah, 14, sits holding his crutches at a UNICEF-assisted reintegration and rehabilitation centre for war-affected Afghan children in the southern city of Kandahar. He lost his leg in a landmine explosion.|
UNICEF and its partners have developed a programme known as the Healthy Schools Initiative (HSI) to help Afghans avoid hazardous situations. The initiative educates and engages communities in order to help identify safe places for children to play. So far, HSI has designated 46 safe play areas in heavily mined areas of the country – including 10 in the south, where violent conflict continues.
The UN Mine Action Centre hopes to clear Afghanistan of 70 per cent of its landmines and unexploded ordnance by 2010, and 100 per cent by 2013.
According to the UN, landmines and explosive remnants of war affect at least 78 countries and injure or kill between 15,000 and 20,000 people annually around the world.
Electronic Mine Information Network website: International Day for Mine Awareness
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