No will to clear mines
Landmines still maim civilians in the western zone where demining operations have been stopped for eight years.
The provinces of Farah, Ghor and Badghis as well as three districts of Herat province are still littered with landmines. According to Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan, a 71 sq-km area in the western zone is still covered by mines that were laid during the Soviet invasion in the 1980s and also mines that were laid later by armed opponents of the government. Over two years, mines were planted in the districts of Kohsan, Gulran and Shindand in Herat; Khak e Safed and Balabollok in Farah; Tiwara, Shahrak and Pasaband in Ghor; and Abkamari, Qades in Badghis.
There appears to be no plans to resume demining operations although many people have fallen victims to landmines.
Abdul Jalil Sadeq, who heads the mine action centre in the western zone, says demining was called off in 2011 because of security threats and budget constraints.
Results of a 2011 survey show that an area of 51 sq km remains to be demined in Farah province; 7.3 sq km in Herat, 3 sq km in Ghor and 9 sq km in Badghis. The cost of cleaning up is according to Sadeq about 35 million USD.
The operations can only be resumed if deminers are provided security. Many demining teams have been targets of abduction in the past. They have been attacked in districts like Kohsan, Shindand, Zendajan and Gulran in Herat province, and also in Farah, Ghor and Badghis. Their attackers have often confiscated demining equipment. While the personnel have always been released following the intervention of village elders in the area, the equipment has never been returned.
Sadeq says demining organisations have frequently requested local authorities for protection but it has not been forthcoming. Provincial officials, however, insist
ensuring security for demining teams is a priority.
Jailani Farhad, spokesperson for the Herat governor, says that 13 out of the province's 19 districts including newly established districts are clear of landmines. He insists that the assessments of security forces show that the armed opponents have placed magnetic mines in some areas of Kohsan, Shindand and Gulran districts to target security forces but civilians too are at risk.
He believes providing security to demining teams is a priority for local administration so that mines are cleared.
An insecure province, there are landmines from the several rounds of war in Afghanistan, and new mines and unexploded devices planted by the Taliban who are targeting security forces.
While an area of 51 sq km is polluted by mines, Mohammad Naser Mehri, the provincial governor's spokesperson, says some parts of districts such as Balabollok or Khak e Safed, and even areas in the provincial capital, are polluted by mines in the recent wars and military operations of anti-government fighters.
The spokesperson of the Farah governor insists the local administration is not able to ensure full security for demining teams due to shortage of security forces. Still, they are trying to do their best, he says.
All districts barring Ferozkoh in the centre are covered with mines left over from wartime. Based on the figures shown by the authorities of Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan, a 3 sq km area is polluted by mines.
Ghulam Mustafa Mohseni, police chief of Ghor, criticises the lack of demining activity in the province. He says demining organisations have not submitted even one report regarding security challenges to the local administrations of Ghor province yet. He promises that when the demining activities start in Ghor province security forces would ensure protection for all deminers. Apart from mines planted during the war years of the '80s and '90s, the armed opponents of the government have buried mines in districts such as Tiwara, Pasaband and Shahrak. It is hard to estimate the total area under mines in the absence of necessary equipment and demining groups in
In this province too there are mines from Soviet war days and more recent conflict.
Based on a survey carried out in 2011 an area of 9 square km is covered by mines left from wartime in Badghis province. Sharafudin Majidi, the head in the governor's office in Badghis province, says that the armed opponents have recently placed mines in districts such as Abkamari and Qades but the area still has not been measured. He says that the inactivity of demining organisations has meant that areas polluted by mines have increased than under past governments.
Abdul Jalil Sadeq, the head of mine action centre in the western region, says that an area of 258.4 sq km has been cleaned of mines by demining organisations since 1990. Of this 94 sq km is located in Herat, 100 sq km in Farah, 50 sq km in Badghis and 14 sq km in Ghor province. While not sharing the exact figures of how much money was spent by the demining organisation, Sadeq says they have gotten information about areas polluted by the mines through tribal leaders and clearing operations have been conducted after a detailed survey.
Casualties from landmines
Civilians, security forces and even the employees of demining organisations have been victims of explosions. Sadeq says 618 people in the western zone have been killed by mines and 720 disabled. As much as 41 percent of these have been children, 4 percent women and the rest are men. According to Sadeq, it is hard to say if these are exact figures because of the remoteness of parts of the western zone, and the lack of reporting.
Moreover, according to Sadeq, the victims of landmines include 121 employees of demining organisations in the western zone. He says that while 30 were killed, the rest were injured by landmines.
Sayed Omed Shayan, in charge of the orthopedic section of International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) in the western zone, says 35,200 physically disabled Afghans are registered with the office. Some 3,300 were maimed by mines and unexploded devices. According to Shayan, 50 of the disabled are civilians; 5 percent women and 10 percent children.
The ICRC provides free of charge services such as physiotherapy, technical assistances, giving wheel chairs and a cane for those with visual impairment.
Everywhere people insist the government is responsible for clearing the landmines and if people continue to lose a limb or life to landmines it is the government's irresponsibility.
Casualties among security forces blame it on lack of equipment and inattention of the government.
Fazel Ahmad who worked in the border police lost one leg in an explosion in Balamurghab district of Badghis province eight months back. He says his daily life is full of problem. "Ensuring the financial needs of my family and solving other problems in my life is now hard for me as I am not even able to go to the market on my own and have to seek assistance from others," he says.
The landmine survivors want the government to clear all areas of the mines and provide financial assistance to victims.
Staff in the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Committee (AIHRC) point out that the use of landmines in conflict should be condemned as unlawful. Behzad Hakak who is in charge of monitoring the police for AIHRC in the western zone believes the government is not serious about clearing areas of landmines. He says that the human right commission has made efforts to raise issues of the rights of those disabled by landmines at national and international conferences in order to keep the focus on their plight. Under the Ottawa agreement, Afghanistan is obliged to clean all areas polluted by mines by 2023 but the demining groups fear both budget constraints and the continuation of war, which has meant new mines are planted in what were cleared areas, means the goal may never be realised.