|© UNICEF South Sudan/2012/Uma|
|Gatluak Kual, the survivor of a landmine blast, plays basketball in South Sudan. The match, with other landmine survivors, commemorated this year's International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.|
By Uma Julius and Swangin Bismarck
JUBA, South Sudan, 18 April 2012 – Gatluak Kual dribbled the ball past two opponents and smiled before passing it to his teammate. To him, disability is not inability – with determination, he says, people can still achieve their future dreams.
“I lost my leg at the war front in 1999 while fighting to liberate South Sudan,” the 29-year-old said, during a match with other landmine survivors. The match commemorated International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, which took place on 4 April 4.
“First it was a bullet, which ripped through my arm,” he recalled, showing the scars on his left arm. “Later on, I was hit by a landmine, which eventually destroyed my right leg.”
Explosive threats in South Sudan
This year, International Day for Mine Awareness was marked for the first time since South Sudan gained independence, on 9 July 2011.
Independence came six years after the end of a two-decade-long conflict, fought mainly between Sudan and the south. Mines were planted during the hostilities, largely in South Sudan, where most of the war was fought.
The South Sudan Mine Action Authority indicates that there were 108 incidences involving landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) in 2011 alone, including some fatalities. The authority also estimates that more than 57,000 devices — consisting of anti-personnel and anti-tank landmines and other UXO — were destroyed by demining authorities in 2011. There are 3,217 known cases of people surviving landmine or UXO blasts in the country, but because of incomplete reporting, the actual number of casualties is expected to be much higher.
It is not known how many landmines and UXO remain in the country’s soil, but it is clear that it hinders settlement, agriculture and other forms of development by making valuable land dangerous and unusable.
Lending a leg for mine awareness
People around the world commemorated International Day for Mine Awareness with this year's global theme: ‘Lend Your Leg’. To express solidarity with victims of landmines and call for an end to the use of these indiscriminate weapons, UNICEF staff in South Sudan gathered to lift a leg and loudly say, “No to landmines.”
|© UNICEF South Sudan/2012/Swangin|
|UNICEF staff in South Sudan lift their legs to show solidarity with landmine victims. This is the first year that South Sudan has commemorated International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.|
Jurkuch Barach Jurkuch, the Chairperson of the South Sudan Mine Action Authority, warned that landmines still pose a threat in the region, especially in Eastern Equatoria state, the worst affected area.
“We still have a lot of work to be done, most especially in relation to creating awareness on the dangers and risks associated with landmines. Our people need to be sensitized on these issues,” Mr. Jurkuch said during mine awareness activities at Juba One Primary School.
Reducing mine risk
The mine action programme currently covers each of the 10 South Sudan states, but concentrates on the seven states considered to be worst affected, Mr. Jurkuch said. These are Eastern Equatoria, Central Equatoria, Jonglei, Upper Nile, Unity, Western Bahr El Ghazel and Warrap states.
The South Sudan Mine Action Authority works with UNICEF, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other partners to reduce the threat of landmines and UXO. UNICEF, which works within the framework of the United Nations Mine Action Office (UNMAO), coordinates and provides technical support to Mine Risk Education (MRE) in schools and communities throughout South Sudan.
UNICEF’s support includes development of training materials, promotion of best practices, especially in schools, as well as supporting the MRE advisory group. The advisory group is composed of expert agencies and individuals that provide guidance and identifies ways to improve effectiveness, efficiency and relevance of MRE within the broader mine action community.
But with the emergence of militias in some parts of South Sudan, there is growing fear that more landmines and other explosives may be planted, which would draw back the progress that has been made to clear mines and keep children safe.