YEMEN: Landmine awareness training for children

Source: IRIN
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AMRAN, 21 March 2010 (IRIN) – At al-Hamza Girls School in the northern Governorate of Amran, Afra Omar from the National Mine Action Programme (NMAP) teaches a class of 50 students about the risk of mines. She holds up photos of some of the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that were found in neighbouring Saada Governorate, where are a war between the army and Houthi-led rebels recently ended. “If you see things like syringes, pipes, bottles, cigarette packages – don’t touch them,” she warns the students. “They can be mines.” Children are one of the main groups being addressed in a mine risk education campaign (http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=88353) launched in March that is also focussing on the country’s 250,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). An estimated 150,000 people were displaced since the last round of the northern war began in August 2009. The rest were displaced by previous rounds of fighting since 2004. Many of the displaced are hopeful of returning home after the two sides agreed a ceasefire on 11 February. However, landmines and unexploded ordinance (UXO) litter the former war zone and threaten to claim more lives if people return too early. “The handmade mines that the Houthis planted do not give the impression that they are mines, encouraging children to touch them and pick them up,” Mansour al-Azi, general director of the National Mine Action Committee (NMAC), said. He added that children made up the largest percentage of casualties of the 5,500 landmine and UXO-related accidents in Yemen since 1962. “It’s a huge problem,” said NMAP manager Nabil Razzam. Some 700,000 people in Saada, including IDPs in 1,239 villages, were exposed to landmine or UXO risks, he said. In the Harf Sufyan District of Amran Governorate alone, he estimated that 45,000 people in 84 villages were at risk. Shuruh al-Hubeish, 14, fled her home in Harf Sufyan last year and, like many of the 48,000 IDPs in Amran, yearns to go home but is afraid. “Before I was scared of the fighting, now I am scared of the landmines,” she said. Local authorities estimate that 10 percent of IDPs from Amran have already returned to their homes and with them the first casualty reports are trickling through. According to the Ministry of Interior, five people have been killed and 20 injured as a result of contact with explosive devices in the Malaheed and Marran areas of Saada, and in Harf Sufyan in Amran. Mine action plan Three demining teams from the army have been dispatched to the north to clear main roads and assess the gravity of the threat. It is estimated that their initial impact survey will take three months to complete while their technical survey, to mark contaminated areas, will take six to eight months. A mine action plan will be devised based on these surveys. “Clearance is slow, but as long as people know where the mine fields are, they can avoid them,” Al-Azi said. One of the problems deminers face is the lack of maps of mined areas as the Houthis kept no record of where mines were laid. Although the Yemeni army is being assisted by their former adversaries, mines were laid randomly by the rebels without central coordination. “The problem is if the person who laid some mines died, the information as to where the mines are died with him,” Al-Azi said. Implementing the Mine Action Plan would cost about US$5 million and take two to three years, according to al-Azi, with four platoons of deminers, four survey teams and four mine dog groups. “We are ready to start in the north. We only need the money from donors and then we can move immediately,” he said.

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