International Day for Mine Awareness: Clearing the legacies of war from Afghanistan's soil | Afghanistan | UNICEF

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International Day for Mine Awareness: Clearing the legacies of war from Afghanistan's soil

© UNICEF/NYHQ1996-0862/Semeniuk
Prosthetic legs inserted in shoes stand on a shelf at an orthopaedic centre in Kabul, Afghanistan. More than 70,000 Afghans have been killed or maimed by landmines since de-mining began in 1989.

By Elizabeth Kiem

On 4 April, the third annual International Day for Mine Awareness is being observed worldwide. Here is a story about de-mining and mine-awareness efforts in Afghanistan.

NEW YORK, USA, 3 April 2009 – The world's first humanitarian mine-action program began in Afghanistan two decades ago, but the country remains dangerously contaminated.

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More than 70,000 Afghans have been killed or maimed by landmines since de-mining began in 1989. In the first half of 2008 alone, 445 mine incidents were reported. Tragically, many involve children, who mistake the deadly hardware for toys or valuable scrap metal. Of the 48 incidents reported in the first two months of 2009, 31 involved children.

With the help of UNICEF-supported interventions, those numbers are dropping.

"The combination of mine awareness education and the establishment of safe-play areas has decreased the mine incidence, definitely," said UNICEF Child Protection Officer Najibullah Hameem in Kabul. "Because it's not just children we are reaching, but also parents who receive orientation through the youth centres" set up by UNICEF.

Covering more ground

Twenty years into the job, more than 8,000 people are still at work in Afghanistan in de-mining, mine-education and rehabilitation efforts. Eighty percent of the most contaminated area has been cleared, but about 720 square km are still a hazardous landscape, endangering more than 2,000 communities.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2003-0154/Noorani
Women teachers participate in a training session on awareness of landmines and other unexploded ordnance, using UNICEF-provided materials, in Gardez, south-eastern Afghanistan.

The village of Woch Tangai in Nangarhar Province is a small but significant success story. Located on a stretch near the border of Pakistan once completely uninhabitable because of mines, the village is now home to 600 families.

Woch Tangai is one of several resettlement areas for returnees that have been cleared expressly for the safe settlement of displaced Afghans forced from their homes by armed conflicts. Most have spent more than a decade in camps in Pakistan.

Safe play areas

The primary school in Woch Tangai is a compound in the centre of the village. And at its heart is a safe-play area furnished with playground equipment by UNICEF.

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2009
The playground at the safe play area in Woch Tangai village, Nangarhar Province, constructed in September 2008, serves about 600 families resettled in this village.

Providing a well equipped playground has cut down on the incidence of children wandering into unsafe areas to play.

"This is a very good initiative to try and get children inside school as well as get them playing in safe areas," said UNICEF Programme Officer Prakash Tuladhar. "The set play areas are becoming an important aspect of our intervention inside the education sector."

Mine awareness, youth involvement

UNICEF Afghanistan has helped set up 137 safe play areas throughout the country.

"The aim is to provide children with areas where they can play without coming across mines. We've linked this with youth information and contact centres to give youth an opportunity to come together," said Mr. Hameem.

UNICEF also supports mine-awareness programs, which have helped educate almost 1.5 million Afghans about the dangers found in the ground. The Mine Risk Education Programme is now integrated with the Ministry of Education.

Assistance for victims has been streamlined as well, with government responsibilities handled through the Ministry of Public Health.

International Day for Mine Awareness

Beyond Afghanistan, the United Nations and partners are marking the third annual International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action on 4 April 2009, with events in countries around the world.

UNICEF has been working on mine action for the past 15 years. supporting activities in some 35 countries – from Colombia to the Caucasus, and Ethiopia to Sudan.

UNICEF also supports the signing, ratification and implementation of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty and related international instruments.




UNICEF correspondent Elizabeth Kiem reports on de-mining and mine-awareness efforts in Afghanistan.
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