Afghanistan

by Kateland Shane [ Mine Action Information Center ]

Afghanistan Map

Afghanistan is contaminated by explosive remnants of war1—a legacy of the conflicts that have plagued the country since 1978. It is well-known that Afghanistan is not only one of the most mine-affected countries in the world, but it is also deeply affected by unexploded ordnance and abandoned explosive ordnance, and the contamination has had serious consequences. While ERW-related casualties still occur at a rate of about 55 per month,2 access to proper health care and victim-assistance activities in Afghanistan is limited. There is hope, as authorities in Afghanistan have recently drafted a plan to improve health services greatly for all persons with disabilities, including ERW survivors. Progress has been seen with plans for a reduction of 70 percent of known hazards by March 2010; however, mines and ERW still plague some 2,300 of 30,000 communities.3

Afghanistan Mine-action Program

Afghanistan is home to one of the world’s oldest and largest humanitarian mine-action programs, which started in 1989. There are over 20 organizations working in mine action in Afghanistan, employing over 8,000 personnel.4 The Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan (formerly the United Nations Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan, MACA is now supported by the United Nations and the government of Afghanistan) was established by the United Nations Mine Action Service in post-Taliban Kabul to oversee, on an interim basis, all mine-action activities in the country, which included planning, management and quality assurance.4 MACA has helped transition various coordinating activities to government ministries and the national Department of Mine Clearance. The DMC was appointed to lead transition coordination for planning activities following a January 2008 inter-ministerial body meeting.3DMC and MACA are working together to ensure that vital activities, such as victim assistance and mine-risk education, are not disrupted while transitioned to designated government entities.

Mine/ERW Casualties

Explosive remnants of war affect 2,886 communities and 4.2 million people in Afghanistan.4 From 1988 to February 2008, there were a total of 17,487 landmine and ERW casualties, according to the MACA database;4 however, the Landmine Monitor reports a “significant problem” with underreporting until 1998, so this number is likely greatly underestimated.5 In 2007, MACA recorded 720 mine/ERW accidents.4 As of 12 July 2008, there were 360 new accidents so far in 2008.4 Statistics indicate that young men aged 7–14 are at the highest risk for mine/ERW casualties in Afghanistan.4 Afghan men as a group are at a much higher risk than women; they account for 92 percent of all mine/ERW incidents in the country.2 Activities at the time of the accident usually include such everyday tasks such as tending animals, collecting firewood and playing.6

Mine-risk Education

Organizations presently involved in mine-risk education in Afghanistan include the Organisation for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation, the Afghan Red Crescent Society, Afghan Technical Consultants, the Association for Aid Relief Japan, Handicap International, Danish Demining Group and The HALO Trust.4 Because children are disproportionately affected by mines and ERW in Afghanistan, there are many programs aimed at younger members of the population. Organizations with programs for children are taking some unique approaches to MRE, using entertaining films, shows and activities to educate younger audiences about the dangers of landmines and UXO. As the transition of mine-action activities and functions continues, certain aspects of MRE will be phased out and replaced with other, more centrally-based systems. For example, most non-governmental organizations' activities will be replaced in favor of activities lead by the Ministry of Education and Afghan Red Crescent Society.3 UNMAS Programme Officer Cris Stephen says, “Mobile cinemas and other activities will also take place on a contracting basis for specialized services. Most MRE activities have already transitioned to the ARCS and MoE.”3 Stephen adds that UNMACA will continue to provide some capability and capacity funding.

No Strings International, a U.K.-based charity established in 2003, uses puppets to educate children around the world about dangerous situations. The writers and directors of No Strings recently produced a 40-minute film entitled Chuche, The Story of the Little Carpet Boy. The film, targeted specifically toward Afghan children, follows the adventures of Chuche Qhalin, a boy made of carpet, on a quest to become a real boy. Along the way, Chuche learns the painful consequences of landmines and how to avoid them in the future.7

Mobile Mini Circus for Children, a Danish-Afghan NGO established in 2002, educates children throughout Afghanistan using creative and fun activities. The NGO currently maintains three traveling circus troupes and a Children’s Cultural House in Kabul. MMCC recently incorporated a theatrical piece for teaching landmine awareness into their entertainment schedule. They are also holding workshops to teach children creative ways to raise mine awareness in their communities.8

Victim Assistance

Afghanistan is a nation in dire need of victim assistance, which is a subset of the larger (and equally troubled) disability-services sector of the country. Victim-specific programs are not implemented in Afghanistan.3 According to the National Disability Survey in Afghanistan, there are approximately 747,500–867,100 people with severe disabilities and 52,000–60,000 ERW survivors currently living in the country.2 Unfortunately, there is a large population of persons with disabilities and not enough resources to accommodate many of them. The 2004 Afghanistan Landmine Impact Survey revealed that only 10 percent of mine-affected communities had any kind of health-care facilities.2 Most assistance programs are coordinated by NGOs and involve orthopedic services, vocational training, micro credit, rights awareness, inclusive education, and other activities. However, these programs are designed for all persons with disabilities, not just mine and ERW survivors.4

Organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross are working in Afghanistan to provide more health-care services and options for persons with disabilities. The ICRC has been working in Afghanistan since 1987. Although the ICRC does not provide aid exclusively for mine/ERW survivors, much of their work does benefit mine survivors. The ICRC operates six orthopedic centers throughout the country to provide much-needed support for the large population of persons with disabilities. The orthopedic centers have helped thousands of patients with such services as prosthetic and orthotic fittings, physiotherapy, micro-credit loans and career training.9

Stephen also notes the important activities of government agencies and ministries in providing disability services. The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled established a Disability Support Unit in 2007 and the ministry is active in pursuing national legislation assisting those with disabilities as well as advocating the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.10 The ministry also is actively pursuing new programs and projects to support those with disabilities.3 Additionally, Stephen notes that the Ministry of Public Health established a Disability Department in 2007 to make disability services a standard component of heath-service plans and hospital services. It has also been active in seeking ways to improve physiotherapy services and emergency care nationwide. 

The Afghanistan National Disability Action Plan 2008–2011

Afghanistan is a State Party to the Ottawa Convention,11 and at the first review conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2004, it was identified as one of 24 States Parties with a substantial number of mine survivors and “the greatest responsibility to act” in the area of victim assistance.5 To comply with the Convention and in conjunction with larger national efforts to improve disability services, the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled in Afghanistan drafted the Kabul Report,12 a plan of action addressing the needs of persons with disabilities from 2006–2009, at the Second National Victim Assistance-Disability Workshop in October 2007. The workshop brought together representatives from various government ministries, persons with disabilities, advocacy groups,, technical experts, humanitarian organizations, and other key stakeholders.3 The October 2007 workshop was followed by another in May 2008, which resulted in the drafting of the Afghanistan National Disability Action Plan 2008–2011.2 The ANDAP revises the original objectives of the Kabul Report and includes new goals and objectives for government ministries in the areas of data collection, emergency and continuing medical care, physical rehabilitation, social reintegration, economic reintegration, community-based rehabilitation, inclusive education, and laws and public policies for persons with disabilities.2

Conclusion

Although Afghanistan still suffers the effects of landmines and unexploded ordnance, the situation is slowly improving. About 1.47 billion square meters (567 square miles) of land have been cleared of ERW,6 and the monthly rate of ERW casualties is decreasing: The current rate is 55 casualties per month, compared to 141 per month in 2001.2 UNMACA notes, “This data set actually reflects the some 567 square miles of land that has been checked for either surface or subsurface unexploded ordnance and other munitions—the areas that have been substantively searched are the areas were battles have been fought over the last 20 years. To supplement these search activities [UNMACA] also coordinates a village-by-village process with the aim of declaring complete districts and provinces free of known ERW hazards.”3 Mine-risk education is also reaching Afghan children now through the national school system. In 2007, UNMACA worked with the Ministry of Education to integrate MRE into the national curriculum. UNMACA assisted the MOE in the training of 18,000 teachers and the distribution of 9,000 MRE kits to all regions.13 Effective victim assistance is still an ongoing struggle, but with full implementation of the recent ANDAP, ERW survivors in Afghanistan should start to see an improvement. JMA icon

Biography

Shane HeadshotKateland Shane started working for the Journal of Mine Action in May 2006. She graduated from James Madison University in May 2007 with a Bachelor of Science in technical and scientific communication. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts at JMU.

Endnotes

  1. Editor’s Note: Some organizations consider mines and ERW to be two separate entities, since they are regulated by different legal documents (the former by the Ottawa Convention and Amended Protocol II of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the latter by CCW Protocol V). However, since mines are explosive devices that have similar effects to other ERW and it is often impossible to separate the two during clearance operations, some in the community have adopted a "working definition" (as opposed to a legal one) of ERW in which it is a blanket term that includes mines, UXO, abandoned explosive ordnance and other explosive devices.
  2. Afghanistan National Disability Action Plan 20082011. Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled. May 2008. Received from UNMACA 14 July 2008.
  3. E-mail correspondence with Cris Stephen, Programme Officer for Afghanistan and Georgia, United Nations Mine Action Service. 11 September 2008.
  4. E-mail interview with Mullah Jan, Area Manager (Eastern), United Nations Mine Action Centre in Afghanistan. 14 July 2008.
  5. “Afghanistan.” Landmine Monitor Report 2007. International Campaign to Ban Landmines. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2007/afghanistan.html. Accessed 21 July 2008.
  6. E-mail interview with Haji Atiqullah, Director, Mine Clearance Planning Agency. 16 July 2008.
  7. Morarjee, Rachel. “Muppets Teach Children a Landmines Lesson.” The Christian Science Monitor. 5 October 2006. http://snipurl.com/32lfu. Accessed 21 July 2008.
  8. “What is the MMCC?” Mobile Mini Circus for Children. http://www.afghanmmcc.org/VideoWeb/PDF/PDF%20longer%20introduction.pdf. Accessed 17 July 2008.
  9. “Afghanistan: ICRC Activities, January–June 2008.” International Committee of the Red Cross. 30 June 2008. http://www.icrc.org/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/htmlall/afghanistan-update-300608. Accessed 28 August 2008.
  10. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, U.N. General Assembly, New York. 13 December 2006. The Convention was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on 13 December 2006 and opened for signature on 30 March 2007, entering into force with the 20th ratification on 3 May 2008. http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/conventionfull.shtml. Accessed 11 September 2008.
  11. Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, Oslo, Norway. 18 September 1997. The document was opened for signature in Ottawa, Canada, 3 December 1997, commonly known as the Ottawa Convention. http://www.icbl.org/treaty/text/english. Accessed 28 August 2008.
  12. Report of the Second National Victim Assistance-Disability Workshop. Hosted by the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled. Kabul, Afghanistan. 23–25 October 2007. http://www.apminebanconvention.org/fileadmin/pdf/mbc/IWP/SC_june08/Speeches-VA/SCVA-StatusImplem-3June08-Afghanistan-WorkshopReport-en.pdf. Accessed 4 August 2008.
  13. E-mail correspondence with Abdul Samy, Area Manager, United Nations Mine Action Centre in Afghanistan. 16 July 2008 and 20 July 2008.

Contact Information

Kateland Shane
Editorial Assistant
Journal of Mine Action
Mine Action Information Center
E-mail: maic(at)jmu.edu

Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan
House # 95, Jeem Street
Zambaq Square, Wazir Akbar Khan
Kabul / Afghanistan

Cris Stephen
Programme Officer for Afghanistan and Georgia
United Nations Mine Action Service
E-mail: stephenc(at)un.org

Mullah Jan
Area Manager
Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan
Mobile: +93 700 602 31 / 700 230 802
E-mail: mullah_jan(at)yahoo.com

Haji Atiqullah
Director
Mine Clearance Planning Agency
House # 5 Rt, Shirkat Street
Darulaman Main Road
Opposite Habibia High School, Karta-e-3
Kabul / Afghanistan
Tel: +93 700 276 006 
E-mail: hajiattiqullah(at)hotmail.com