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Issue 7.2, August 2003
Mine Awareness in Iraq
Following the U.S.-led war in Iraq, several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are saving lives by doing what they can to raise awareness about the country’s serious landmine/UXO problem.
|Sgt. Maj. Nick Pettit speaks before a group of Iraqi school boys on the dangers of land mines and unexploded ordnance during a mine awareness presentation in Basra. Excess ammunition and weapons abandoned by Iraqi forces are being found all over Iraq. This poses a constant threat, especially to children. c/o AP|
Due to the massive amounts of mines and UXO littering post-war Iraq, the country has arguably become one of the most dangerous places in the world. The main problem areas are around Iraq’s borders and military bases, where unfortunately, many local villages are located as well. Many organizations are well aware of the landmine problems facing the Iraqi citizens and are currently implementing thorough mine education programs throughout the region.
Mine Awareness Programs
Handicap International (HI)
While it is difficult to ascertain exact numbers of landmine victims, the HI team reports landmine and UXO accidents occur at the rate of “several times a day in Baghdad and more than a dozen a day in the rest of the country.”1 Hoping to spread awareness, HI has collaborated with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to print at least 200,000 leaflets as their first step in educating the Iraqi community about the dangers of landmines. In order to present the messages in a way that would be understood by all, the images were tested on a sample of the Iraqi refugees currently in Jordan—coming from different regions of Iraq and Kurdistan and composed of men, women and children, both Muslim and Christian. Two main areas have been targeted for distribution thus far: northern Iraq, in collaboration with the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), and southern Iraq, in collaboration with UNICEF in Larnaka. Baghdad will also be targeted with 100,000 leaflets for distribution as certain areas of the city are also polluted with mines and UXO. HI will use the community network, including mosques, the Red Crescent Society and women’s organizations to facilitate their mine risk education (MRE) programs. Posters, seminars and radio and television messages will be used in coordination with the leaflets in order to successfully reach the largest number of people.
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
The ICRC has been working in Iraq since the Iran-Iraq war began in 1980. The ICRC mine awareness programs utilize the three pillars of the community-based awareness concept: information collection, community involvement and integration with other programs. In the Middle East, the ICRC is starting up an emergency program with five awareness delegates based in the countries surrounding Iraq. The main aim is to reach the civilian population as quickly as possible with safety messages in order to avoid any unnecessary accidents. Posters, printed material and radio spots will be individually designed for appropriate target groups.2
The Data Coordination Unit (DCU) of MAG has a database that holds records of more than 3,782 minefields in the most heavily contaminated areas of Iraq.3 MAG’s mine awareness program seeks to minimize the risk of mine encounters among local populations by implementing diverse programs suited to many different types of people. From 1997 to June 2002, MAG trained over 3,000 teachers and school supervisors and was the first NGO to implement “child-to-child” techniques for mine action, including MRE. In addition, MAG visited mosques and mullahs to distribute information with messages from the Holy Koran in order to reach a broader spectrum of mine-affected persons.
The United Nations
The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) has managed the northern Iraq Mine Action Program (MAP) since 1997. UNOPS was able to expedite and fine-tune mine awareness programs by developing a mine action database by the year 2000. Between December 2000 and June 2002, the MAP provided mine awareness education to over 143,000 beneficiaries.
Meanwhile, UNICEF has launched an impressive MRE campaign in Iraq as well. In an effort to further target children, UNICEF has aired television campaigns to be sure children are educated and aware of the dangers they face. UNICEF is trying to get the Iraqi children back in school as quickly as possible in order to both increase MRE and keep them off the streets and away from danger. UNICEF is the lead agency for MRE within the UN system.
The work these mine action organizations have completed thus far has already made vast improvements on the quality of life many Iraqis experience today. While much work remains to be done in order to build adequate infrastructure for everyday living, the long road ahead is becoming easier to navigate as these organizations figure out new and more comprehensive ways to teach mine awareness.