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At a glance: Libya

In Libya, explosive remnants of war continue to maim and kill after conflict ends

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1542/Diffidenti
Boys explore a weapons storage facility in Tripoli, Libya, toward the end of the country's conflict. The weapons storage facility was bombed, leaving the area littered with damaged weapons.

By Yosi Echeverry Burckhardt

NAFUSA MOUNTAINS, Libya, 23 April 2012 – “I didn’t feel anything when it happened,” said 9-year old Mahmoud from Zintan, in the Nafusa Mountains, describing the day his right hand was lost and his left hand severely injured by a bullet he found on the ground.

“I had picked up a bullet that was lying on the ground and started hitting it against the tar. Then it exploded and everything turned black,” he said about the event, which occurred on 26 June last year.

Months after the official end of the Libyan conflict, explosive remnants of war (ERW) remain pervasive, as are small arms, light weapons and other dangerous objects that continue to injure and kill children.

Children facing stress and shock

The bullet that blew off Mahmoud’s hand was found only 500 meters from his house. Mahmoud, driven by a curiosity common to children his age, had gone to see where his father fought against the armed forces during the conflict. During the hostilities, rockets and grenades had been cast over his house on a daily basis for weeks, and ERW remained everywhere.

“I didn’t cry at all. I just saw the blown-off hand, and my friends ran away screaming. They brought their older brother, who took me to the hospital,” said Mahmoud.

© UNICEF Libya/2012/Burckhardt
Nine-year-old Mahmoud's hand was blown off by a bullet he found on the ground in Zintan, Libya. Many children in Libya have suffered similar injuries as a result of explosive remnants of war.

“Not feeling any pain in such an event is a normal symptom of shock,” explained clinical psychologist Unni Heltne from Norway, who spent one week in Zintan and Misrata with

UNICEF, training school personnel on how to identify and help children with symptoms of trauma.

UNICEF is working with both national and international partners to reduce the impact of trauma among children in the aftermath of the conflict. Teachers, parents and social workers are being trained to identify the symptoms of anxiety, fear and stress-related disorders among children, and they are learning how to help these children cope.

Mine-risk education

UNICEF is also working closely with the Ministry of Education, the New Libyan Mine Action Authority, as well as UN and NGO partners in the field to increase awareness about ERW among children and communities. ERW educational materials and sessions are teaching children how to protect themselves from injuries like Mahmoud’s.

Nearly 10 months after the accident, Mahmoud has all five fingers of his left hand intact. He can move them, although the muscles are still weak. “I am simply happy he is alive,” his mother, Zeinab, said. “Many families lost two or three children during the war.”

In 2011, UNICEF, with donations from the Swedish Government, reached 13,000 children with direct mine-risk awareness activities in eastern Libya. These sessions will be expanded, and, with the additional support of the European Union and the Australian Government, a mine-risk education component is planned for integration into the Libyan school curriculum in 2012.



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