25 Dec 2017
Writer: Hasibullah Noori

Shifting mine clearance deadline

Some 190 Afghans are maimed or killed by landmines every month.

Afghanistan is still one of the world's worst affected countries even though more than a billion dollars have been spent on demining operations since 2001.
Unexploded devices and landmines litter the countryside. Killid's findings reveal that more than 100 vehicles and 1,800 instruments belonging to demining institutions have been confiscated by armed groups.
Authorities in the demining coordination office estimate more than 26,000 civilians have become victims of unexploded or buried mines. Currently some 60 organisation and foundations are working towards the elimination of all mines, and also raising public awareness. Still Afghanistan is fourth on the list of heavily mined countries in the world. It leads the world in the number of casualties as a result of mine explosions.
It is said that most of the mines were planted during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Officials hope to make the country free of landmines and unexploded ordnance by 2023. But shrinking aid for projects in Afghanistan may derail efforts.
Staff shortage
An acute shortage of trained deminers has been a challenge for demining efforts. According to authorities in the demining coordination office, there is still an area of a thousand square kilometers that is covered by mines. Before 2001 mines were spread over some 550 square kilometres. To this some 450 square kilometres have been added in the last few years.
Mohammad Shafiq Yusufi, head of the demining coordination office, says, "No area covered by mines since 2001 has been cleaned by demining organisations." Abdul Qahar Hesari, in charge of the operational section in central zone of Halo Trust (a demining organisation), believes mines have not been cleared because of lack of trained staff. "Our employees do not have experience in clearing mines and unexploded devices that were planted after 2001. These belong to the military and should be cleared by them," Hesari says.
There are some 8,000 staff in big and small demining organisations in the country. Mohammad Shafiq Yusufi, head of the demining coordination office, says there are seven big and 50 small demining offices. He adds that between them they had 15,000 employees in 2011-2012 but the numbers decreased as budgets shrunk.
"Now the number has decreased to 8,000 employees – 5,000 are working with demining organisations, and the rest are deminers of NATO forces," Yusufi says.

Abduction of deminers
Over the last four years, as the security situation worsened and armed groups attacked government forces and institutions, demining groups have also not been safe. Deminers have been abducted and released only on the intervention of tribal or village elders but their equipment has not been returned. Engineer Yusufi, the head of the demining coordination office, says that as many as 700 employees of demining organisations have been kidnapped by armed groups since 2010 and freed only through the efforts and cooperation of tribal leaders.
According to information provided to Killid, there have been 293 cases of attacks, 91 deminers have been killed, 129 injured and 773 abducted. Moreover, 120 vehicles, 69 cameras, 55 GPS sets, 298 wireless sets, 464 mine detectors, 306 safety caps, 418 safety waistcoats and 163 mine frustrating instruments have not been given back to the deminers after they were freed.
Public dismay
People complain about repeated clearing operations in some areas, a claim that is rejected by demining organisations. The latter say there are different stages in the process of mine clearing, and people think one area is being cleared over and over again.
Sayed Zabihullah, a resident of Kabul, and one of those who say that demining operations are repeated, says, "Land in Qala Haidar, towards Arghandi, has been cleared frequently by deminers. At the end of a year, another group of deminers come and clean the same area. They fly white and red flags, the former signaling all is well, the latter warning of danger. I am not the only one who has seen this; all the people have."
Abdul Qahar Hesari, in charge of the operational section in central zone of Halo Trust, says, "Different demining foundations launch clearing work. This is followed by a survey, and further clearing. Finally, a monitoring process is undertaken."
According to Hesari, each stage in the process takes time. "When people see the mine clearance institutions and employees they think that the process of mine cleaning has been started again but this is far from the truth," he says.
Casualties mount
While more than one billion USD have been spent since 2001, the head of the demining coordination office, says "On the average, some 190 civilians lose their lives every month – this is six deaths on the average every day."
Yusufi estimates at least 20 million mines have been eliminated in the past 28 years. Yet, Afghanistan is the top of the list of countries with the worst record of deaths and injuries from landmines.
He says one thousand employees of demining organisations have become victims during mine clearance operations over the last 28 years. Hundred have become martyred and 900 injured. "Seventy deminers have been killed and 130 injured in the current year because of the bad security situation," says Yusufi.
Abdul Tawabi Fayzi, in charge of the public relations section of justice appeal foundation for war victims, asks the government to help in clearing landmines and unexploded ordnance which are a threat to people and livestock. "The mine is a blind enemy of human beings. Many Afghans have become victims. We appeal to the government as well as the international community to ensure security for deminers and cooperate with demining groups."
Uncertain future
In 2003, Afghanistan was meant to be free of landmines by 2013 but the ongoing war and insecurity have brought demining operations to a standstill. It is doubtful if all the mines will ever be cleared despite the deadline having been extended by another 10 years.

Mohammad Shafiq Yusufi says, "The war is going on in Afghanistan and we are not sure all the planted mines in the country will be eliminated by 2023."
International assistance for demining decreased in 2014 when the US pulled out a majority of its troops in Afghanistan. "US, Japan, Canada, England, Australia and the European Union were the main aid givers to demining organisations. We hope that these countries will restart aid," says Yusufi.
Raising public awareness has been one of the initiatives. The programme has enlisted schools, teachers, media, mosques and others to reach 23 million Afghans. While an estimated one billion USD has been spent on demining, the demining coordination office is looking for additional funds of 525 million USD to meet the country's 2023 target.

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