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Mines and UXO are an ever-present danger for people and their livestock in many parts of Ethiopia, which has been ravaged by years of conflict and war. The Ethiopian Mine Action Office (EMAO) is the focal point of humanitarian mine action in Ethiopia and therefore in charge of locating and destroying the cruel and hidden killers. A demining program under its auspices began in May 2002 with clearance work in the priority areas of Northern Tigray.
by Josef Strebel, Mine Action Advisory Team, Information Adviser to EMAO
The sheer size of the country and the many conflicts it has experienced in modern times make a thorough humanitarian demining effort a huge task that requires extensive information gathering. The search for mines is painstaking, requiring patience and time. Time that nobody really has in view of the destruction and pain that these lethal weapons produce, the rehabilitation programmes that are hampered and the delay of the return of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
The extent of the mine problem will be assessed through an overall Ethiopian Landmine Impact Survey (ELIS), for which the appropriate methodology is currently being evaluated and the best approaches are being studied. The Survey Action Center (SAC) gave the non-governmental organization (NGO) Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA) the task of carrying out the ELIS. So far, there is only very limited data available, which was gathered in northern Tigray and Afar by the Ethiopian Demining Project (EDP) and Ethiopian NGO Rehabilitation and Development Organization (RaDO) during its ongoing Mine Risk Education (MRE) effort. Only limited lists of incidents/impacts and maps or sketches of minefields exist.
Additionally, information can be gathered through questioning administration representatives and the population in areas where minefields are likely to be expected. Unfortunately, one of the best indicators for the presence of mines are accidents or, in the technical jargon of humanitarian mine action, incidents. Tampering with mines is a major cause of injuries and deaths in Northern Tigray and Afar in the aftermath of the war.
A preliminary survey to ELIS recently conducted by EMAO
and NPA in Bahir Dar and North Wollo region, north of the Ethiopian
capital Addis Ababa, also revealed that victims have been injured or
killed by removing “a metal ring, the size of a finger ring” from an
unknown object. These objects were almost certainly live hand grenades
left behind from the civil war. How many other areas are threatened
through mines/UXO is unclear to date and will be learned through the ELIS
with the necessary details to plan action and allocate the restricted
resources of EMAO.
On December 5, 2000, the government of Ethiopia dedicated from a World Bank loan for an Emergency Recovery Program (ERP) a slice of $30 million (U.S.) for humanitarian mine action.
The Ethiopian Mine Action Office (EMAO) was established in February 2001 and began to develop field capacity and a management center by July 2001. The same month, the Director and Deputy Director were appointed and the Director participated in a senior mine action managers training program at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom.
In September 2001, UNDP finalized the comprehensive project document ETH/01/001 using core United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) funds together with Dutch and Norwegian cost sharing contributions, which outlined and partially fund the mine action requirements through 2002.
Two companies of the Ethiopian Army were demobilized and transferred to EMAO for training as deminers. In January 2002, EMAO’s management signed the first contract with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) so that it could begin with humanitarian mine action in Ethiopia. By mid-March 2002, the two companies were fully equipped and then deployed to the priority areas in northern Tigray, where they set up camp and established communication.
Currently, the field capacity includes two companies of 200 men in total. They have been trained up to international standards by technical advisers from RONCO and with the financial support of the U.S. State Department. Right now, EMAO Headquarters is in phase two of filling its ranks with junior staff and will be at full strength this summer. A second contract with the World Bank through MoFED covering the next five months has been finalized and is being implemented.
After additional training, accreditation and worst-case
medical evacuation procedures were put in place, EMAO started real
demining by mid-May 2002. A general survey previously conducted in the
priority area provided enough data for demining activities that can be
carried through until the end of 2002.
This capacity is a start but is not the total solution to solve the landmine problem in the country. EMAO is conscious of the extent of the landmine threat in the country, and we know to address the entire mine action needs of Ethiopia.
As of now, mine action in Ethiopia sits at an important crossroads. EMAO’s ranks are filled with trained staff. Mechanisms for covering expenses in some cost centers have been developed, and the government has committed funds. Additionally, international advisers are in place and draft training plans and the development of longer-term national mine action strategies are under way. Now that we, the Ethiopians, have demonstrated the necessary resolve to undertake humanitarian mine action at international standards and have committed substantial funds for execution, it is critical that the international community step forward with the willingness to support the expansion of the programme.
The following are aspects that EMAO urgently wants to be addressed to ensure that effective mine action activities are undertaken:
Training of Two Additional Manual Demining Companies
Structure of Mine Risk Education
To address the immediate need of communicating the danger of mines to the local population, to remove any immediate threat and to mark the current threat, RRTs should be established and trained as soon as possible. It is suggested that these Rapid Response Teams are allocated to the contaminated weredas (districts) where they can respond on short notice and also conduct their functions within the community. In general, these RRTs will allow the larger manual demining units to concentrate on known larger contaminated areas, maximizing their economy of scale. The RRTs also allow the local authorities to have additional assets within their administrative regions that can respond to immediate threats from constituents.
The RRTs are also to be expanded to the other contaminated
areas of Ethiopia to ensure assistance to the whole population. The
immediate requirement is for seven teams.
While dogs cannot replace manual mine clearance, they are powerful tools when used in combination with manual and mechanical clearance and can often have a large potential within humanitarian demining operations.
It is recommended that MDDs are implemented in Ethiopia through a two-stage approach, as follows:
Establishing a Training Facility