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UNICEF responds to unexploded ordnance threat in aftermath of Pakistan flood crisis

Flash floods carry landmines from conflict zone

By Shandana Aurangzeb Durrani

KHYBER PAKHTUNKHWA, Pakistan, 9 November 2010 – Catastrophic flash floods have scarred the lives of Tayyab, 4, and his family in unimaginable ways. His father, Mohammad Aslam, is a small farmer in the remote village of Sadra Sharif, located in north-western Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Priyanka Pruthi reports on the dangers posed by unexploded ordnance and landmines in north-west Pakistan.  Watch in RealPlayer


In early August, as floodwaters receded in the village, Mr. Aslam went to the fields to assess the damage to his crops. “I saw this thing stuck in the crops and I brought it home out of curiosity,” he remembers. “Not even for a moment did it cross my mind that I was bringing destruction to my family.”

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Shandana
Tayyab, 4, victim of an anti-personnel landmine, with his sister, Sadia and parents, Mohammad Aslam and Naseem Bibi, at their home in Sadra Sharif village, north-western Pakistan.

Mr. Aslam had mistakenly brought home an anti-personnel landmine. His son and daughter were badly wounded when the landmine exploded as they were playing with it. “I want to play, but it hurts,” says Tayyab, whose foot had to be amputated as a result of his injuries.

“He cries all the time. He has lost a lot of weight and has become aggressive,” says Tayyab’s mother, Naseem Bibi. “He is totally dependent and has to be carried everywhere.”

Lurking menace

The receding waters have unearthed a lurking menace of unexploded ordnance and landmines in Pakistan. The floods carried the explosives into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from the mountains in neighbouring, conflict-stricken South Waziristan, one of the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Shandana
Shabana Bibi, a social mobilizer from the non-governmental Sustainable Peace and Development Organization, conducts a mine-risk education session with women and children in Budh village, a hazardous area of north-western Pakistan.

“Sixteen cases have been reported during the last two months in flood-affected areas,” says UNICEF Child Protection Officer Farman Ali. “Seven victims, including women and children, have been injured leading to amputation.”

In response to the danger, UNICEF and its non-governmental partner, the Sustainable Peace and Development Organization, have expanded their mine-risk education (MRE) programme to flood-affected areas. 

An effective response

With funding from the Government of Japan, UNICEF – a leader in this field globally – initiated and has been leading an MRE Working Group in north-western Pakistan to develop a concerted, effective landmine response at the community level for two years.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Shandana
Tayyab, 4, victim of an anti-personnel landmine, with his sister, Sadia and parents, Mohammad Aslam and Naseem Bibi, at their home in Sadra Sharif village, north-western Pakistan.

Building on the same programme, UNICEF and its partners are now promoting precautionary measures among the flood-affected population in hazardous areas. An important component of the programme is selection and training of volunteers, who also receive first-aid kits for the provision of immediate medical assistance in case of an explosion.

“If I had information and awareness, this would not have happened to my family”, says Mr. Aslam, Tayyab’s father. Because he wants to make sure that no one else in his village suffers the pain that his family has endured, Mr. Aslam now assists in organizing local MRE sessions taught by a team of social mobilizers.

Volunteers save lives

UNICEF is also linking survivors like Tayyab with appropriate service providers for medical treatment and rehabilitation. At the same time, school sessions are being conducted to help educate children about the dangers.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Shandana
An anti-personnel landmine carried by flood waters is lodged in a bush in an agricultural field in the north-western Pakistan district of Dera Ismail Khan.

The impact of these interventions has been felt already, with casualties averted due to community volunteers’ identification of unexploded ordnance, which local bomb disposal squads have defused immediately.

“Floodwaters have contaminated vast areas,” says Inayat Ulah, a bomb squad official. “MRE training and awareness at the community level is very important, as we do not have the financial and human resources to sweep these areas. Due to identification and timely reporting by community members, many lives have been saved.”



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