The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) has estimated that there are nearly 724 million square meters of contaminated land in Afghanistan. Many areas are not accessible because of the high risk factor they present, while new minefields continue to be discovered at an alarming rate. Every month, landmines kill or injure 150 to 300 people in Afghanistan. The threat to the civilian and refugee populations is great. MRE and mine awareness programs are conducted throughout the country to warn and educate these communities of the dangers mines and UXO present.
The Mine Action Program for Afghanistan (MAPA) and the UN MACA collect and evaluate civilian mine accident and UXO statistics from local hospitals and organizations to determine priority areas for MRE activities. International governmental organizations (IGOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) communicate with MAPA to coordinate MRE programs in Afghanistan. Starting in 2002, UNICEF assumed partial responsibility for the MRE component of mine action with MAPA. Both UNICEF and MACA support a number of MRE partner agencies and their activities.
There are four main approaches to MRE activities. They include direct MRE, MRE public information, indirect or community-based MRE, and capacity building. The different MRE partners working in Afghanistan are responsible for different activities depending on their area and target population. This article will discuss the four MRE approaches in detail and highlight specific programs currently taking place within the country.
Direct Mine Risk Education
Direct MRE is the most common approach to MRE activities. Organizations using this approach send out teams of trainers to the at-risk populations to conduct awareness sessions. The teams evaluate the needs of the target population and create specific classes for these people. The sessions are normally held in common, easily accessible areas such as mosques, community centers or clinics. Programs continue until the MRE partner feels that most of the people in the area have attended a program. There are a number of different targeted groups for direct MRE. Activities are divided to focus on returning refugees, children, and aid workers and journalists.
Refugees traveling through the country are very vulnerable to landmines and UXO. MRE teams therefore engage in quick mine awareness sessions for returning refugees.
This training has become part of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) repatriation process. MRE teams are stationed in different locations such as refugee camps, border crossing points, transition camps and encashment centers throughout Afghanistan and neighboring countries. Since refugees are en route, they receive short MRE sessions. Teams of trainers therefore follow refugees back to their previous homes to provide more relevant and in-depth information and to determine if they live in areas at high risk. So far, according to MACA, more than 1.6 million Afghan refugees from Pakistan and Iran have received MRE sessions.
Children can be the most vulnerable targets for landmine and UXO injury if they do not fully comprehend the dangers of playing with them or recognize high-risk areas. Since the reopening of Afghani schools, UNICEF and MACA have developed an MRE school program to reach all schools and students throughout the country. The program consists of three phases.
The first phase is an MRE Quick Impact Campaign. Partner agencies send trainers to every school to conduct awareness campaigns, exhibitions and other events to raise awareness. This phase also serves as an initial introduction to the dangers of mines and UXO before the students participate in more comprehensive classes. UNICEF claims that so far, more than 70 percent of the targeted schools have completed this phase.
Phase two of the school program involves training school teachers on MRE and providing them with materials to conduct awareness sessions on a regular basis. The Ministry of Education in Afghanistan is involved in this effort. The goal is to train at least two to six teachers in each formal school and one in non-formal or home schools. The different MRE partners each chose a teacher package most appropriate for the region they operate in. These will be distributed to teachers to use with their students after they have completed a four-day training session. It is projected that a total of more than 16,000 teachers will receive training during this phase. The final phase of the program involves the Ministry of Education’s public announcement at the ICBL conference in Kabul that they intend to incorporate these sessions into Afghanistan’s formal school curriculum.
In addition to the MRE sessions performed in schools, Save the Children has been working in Afghanistan to educate children outside of the formal school setting. They chose to conduct awareness sessions outside of schools as a result of the restrictions on girls’ education imposed by the former government. Save the Children therefore operates in community centers and health-care institutions.
Their program utilizes a non-formal teaching methodology by including games and activities to teach the children how to live in mined communities. The educational materials used tie in a number of other issues and try to get the children to make references to their personal experiences. The premise of the program is “that landmine education should be fun, but not funny.”1
Currently there are 35 trained male and female facilitators working in community centers. In addition, Save the Children trains volunteers to promote further community participation. All volunteers receive educational pamphlets and materials, and their aim is to create a continuous program.
MRE for Aid Workers and Journalists
Since September 11, 2001, there has been an increased amount of aid workers, peacekeepers and journalists entering Afghanistan. Handicap International Belgium (HIB) has assumed the role of providing these workers—some of whom have never been exposed to the threats of landmines—with mine awareness training. The project started on October 1, 2001, and is expected to conclude on December 31, 2002. After this time, however, HIB will continue to provide training to newcomers on a regular basis.
A total of nearly 5,000 people are expected to attend these information sessions held in all five regions of the country. The main participants include Afghan employees of UN agencies and NGOs, UN and NGO expatriate staff and consultants, and expatriate journalists. The program operates with two teams of two trainers providing direct mine awareness training at each of the different training locations. The teams also conduct revision training when required. All sessions are held in English, Farsi and Pashtu.
MRE Public Information Approach
The public information approach is the second most common form of MRE. During emergency situations, MRE agencies are able to quickly pass basic mine risk information to a large number of people. This approach is necessary when there is a large population movement or when certain groups of people are exposed to new threats as a result of changing frontlines, bombings, etc. To relay safety messages, organizations using this method hold demonstrations in highly trafficked areas, print and distribute posters and leaflets, set up billboards, and broadcast messages through radio and TV outlets.
The BBC World Service began a series of radio programs in Afghanistan to help the millions of refugees in the country and in camps located in Pakistan and Iran. The people of Afghanistan have been directly affected by the military campaign against the Taliban. New hazards have arisen from unexploded cluster bombs in addition to the already existing minefields left from years of war.2
The daily broadcasted programs intended for both adults and children give advice on how to avoid the threat of landmines and other life-saving information.
In Afghanistan, radio is the most efficient manner to address the population. Only 47 percent of men and 15 percent of women in the country are literate and although the ban on television was lifted after the Taliban’s withdrawal, TV transmissions are very few.2 Through radio, the BBC World Service is able to reach even the remotest areas of Afghanistan on shortwave and can broadcast the programs in all local languages.
In addition to transmitting mine awareness information, the BBC programs contain information on health and matters relating to women and children. The radio programs are called On the Road and New Home, New Life, the second of which is a soap opera and has been running for eight years. The shows incorporate education and entertainment to relay their messages. This media outlet also allows refugees to share their stories. By outwardly talking about their situations, Afghanis can help each other in dealing with their fears and concerns.2
A third way mine action agencies can provide MRE is through indirect or community-based programs. This usually occurs in areas where the population is relatively settled. Organizations then send their teams of trainers to the communities to teach volunteers how to conduct MRE sessions. Once a community-based volunteer program has been established, the partner agencies continue to follow up on their progress and address any additional concerns.
Since 1996, HIB has also been instrumental in implementing a Community-Based Mine Awareness Program (CBMAP). The program is expected to continue through 2004 and benefit almost 1,500,000 Afghan people, including rural villagers, Kuchies, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees. HIB’s objective is to place the responsibility of mine awareness activities on community members in order to “foster a spontaneous and independent spreading of the messages.” The goal of the HIB CBMAP is to:
The CBMAPs are currently located in the six most heavily mined provinces of south and west Afghanistan: Herat, Farah, Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul and Ghazni.
Partners Capacity Building
A final approach to MRE is through the training and capacity building of other non-mine action partners. The MACA and UNICEF locate partners who have educational and/or other social service programs to integrate MRE into their programs. The type and extent of MRE training determines the type of services the partners provide.
Together the MACA and UNICEF are working in Afghanistan to provide MRE for all at-risk populations. Technical support and funding are provided to help a wide range of partners run effective programs throughout the country. Continuous efforts by NGOs and other governmental organizations are vital to help protect the lives of millions of Afghan people.
M. Sharif Baaser
Handicap International Belgium