Tags / Land Mines
The amount of IEDs left by the Islamic State is staggering. 'Not normal', says the mayor of Makhmour. According to Kurdish government and Peshmerga officials, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and mines planted by Islamic State militants are the biggest cause of casualties for Peshmerga forces. ISIS has adopted the tactic of heavily seeding all of the territory it withdraws from with the deadly devices, with the intent of slowing down Peshmerga advances. Some IEDs are also intentionally left in fields and homes to target civilians according to Kurdish officials. We go to the frontlines with a Peshmerga engineer team specialized in dismantling the devices, and speak to a farmer who is affected by Islamic State IEDs. The mayor of the city of Makhmour, whose community is still dealing with getting rid of massive amounts of IEDs ISIS left in August, also weighs in on the subject.
December 9, 2014
Last season Amir and Adib Gerges, sibling farmers, were unable to sell their harvest because of an ISIS attack on their homes, in the town of al-Qosh in the largely Christian Nineveh Valley, forced them to flee. Since then, their town has been retaken by the Kurdish Peshmerga and the brothers have returned to work on their farms, despite the fact that ISIS controls territory less than 10km away. The brothers are some of the very few farmers who were brave enough to return to their land. Other farmers either ran away from the conflict or are too scared to return because of the ongoing threat of fighting and land mines laid by retreating ISIS fighters. The brothers heard about the 13-year-old son of a farmer who died after stepping on a mine, in the neighboring town of Tel Isqof. Amir and Adib say that, although their safety is not guaranteed, they have no choice but to stay and work on their ancestral land.
Adib Gerges, Farmer (Man, Arabic)
(00:18-00:27) Interviewer: How much wheat did you plant today?
Adib: “Approximately 40-50 Dunam.”
Interviewer: How many Dunams left to plant?
Adib: “About 20-30 Dunams.”
Amir Gerges, Farmer, (Man, Arabic)
(01:08-01:17) Interviewer: Aren't you afraid?
Amir: “We are counting on God. We are not doing anything wrong.”
(01:22-01:42) Interviewer: You are in an unsafe area, in Nineveh valley. What guarantees do you have that it is safe to keep working on your land? Do you have hope?
Adib: “We are counting on God and God will help us, we hope for things to be resolved.”
Interviewer: What is this?
Adib Gerges: “Seeds for wheat .”
Worker, (Man, Arabic)
(03:38-03:46) Interviewer: Are you not afraid to work here?
Worker: “No why would I be afraid? God is with us and he will help us, why would we be afraid?
Interviewer: How do you feel when ISIS is so close to you?
Adib: “The Peshmerga are here, and we wish for better things to come.”
Interviewer: How much did you harvest?
Adib: “Out of 100 Dunams, we harvested 30.”
Interviewer: What did you do with it?
Adib: “We did not take it to the market yet.”
Adib: “We did not have time when the conflict happened. We left the area and did not have time to take the wheat to market so it stayed packed in the houses.”
Interviewer: When did you start farming?
Adib: “It is a very old profession, our fathers and grand-fathers worked in cultivation and we are continuing on the same path.”
Interviewer: Do you intended to leave your land?
Adib: “No, our land is very precious, we cannot leave it.”
Interviewer: “Many Christians left their land and went to Europe and many other places.”
Adib: “What can I tell you? Each person does what he pleases.”
Interviewer: What do you think?
Adib: “We hope for the best and that we never have to leave our land.”
Interviewer: Many Christians left the area, but you stayed to guard your land. Why?
Amir: “Yes, the land is very precious, we cannot leave or land. Our country is also precious. This situation will definitely come to an end and the problems will be solved. We work, benefit, and raise our children well. We give them good education and live well. That is what we should do. War and fighting helps nobody.”
(07:32-07:49) Amir: “A person does not abandon his land, his home, and his country. Wherever this person goes, he will find himself a stranger. We cannot leave our land. It is too valuable to us.”
Amir: “The Pershmerga forces are controlling the area. One farmer stepped on a ground-mine, it exploded and he died. He was 13 years old, and had three siblings. It happened about 10-15 days ago.”
Interviewer: Who planted those mines?
Amir Gerges: “Nobody except ISIS.”
(08:50-09:14) Amir: “We have no manure so we bought some from the black market. Concerning gas, we received help from Kurdistan.”
A football team for victims of landmines, called The Lebanese Landmine Survivors Team, was launched in 2001 by the The Lebanese Welfare Association for the Handicapped (LWAH), to bring survivors together once a week to play football and help cope with their injuries.
Today the group is still developing and the players play with their prosthetic limbs on. They even play against teams from other associations who do not suffer handicaps. The team is comprised of 15 players and aims to gather as many young people as possible who suffer war injuries and help them develop psychologically and socially. The team is the only one of its kind in Lebanon and the Arab World. Even on a world level, there aren’t any teams that play while wearing prosthetic limbs.
Today Lebanon is relatively peaceful, but a 15-year civil war and conflicts with neighboring countries, such as Israel and Syria, have left unexploded land mines and cluster munitions across swathes of the tiny country. Between 1975-2012 these unexploded devices killed 903 people and injured a further 2,780. The Mines Advisory Group (MAG), a British NGO that works to clear unexploded ordinances in Lebanon, says that the number of accidents has recently increased.
The Lebanese Mine Action Centre (LMAC) aims to clear all cluster munitions by 2016 and almost all land mines by 2020. However, it is likely that these deadlines will not be met. When the land mines were laid, mostly during Lebanon’s civil war, no record of the locations was kept. It is impossible to know how many of the 4m cluster bombs that Israel fired on Lebanon during the 2006 war, failed to explode and still remain a danger.
(Man, Arabic): Dr. Bachir Abdul Hak, coach of the Lebanese survivor team:
(02:10) We had the idea of establishing this team in the Lebanese welfare association for the handicapped in the 1998, but we did not execute it until the year of 2000. We believe that all young men who suffer from a certain handicap need the physical and the athletic exercise to help them build their bodies, improve their physical and psychological health, and get out of their isolation. that is how the idea started, to provide a service that would help them socially and psychologically. (02:52)
(03:32) The team became like a family to me, we have been together for 14 years,all the children you see in the filed were born with us. i care a lot about this team and I give it all my time, and effort because it deserves the attention from us to be able to succeed. (05:52)
(Man, English) Ali Srour, player, 31 year old civil servant, from Aita al-Chaab, South of Lebanon. he lost his leg in a hunting trip near his village in 2001:
(Woman, English) Habiba Aoun, Coordinator of Land-mine research center (Balamand University)
QUANG TRI PROVINCE, Vietnam – A demining team carefully removes a pile of rusty explosives – each one still able to kill or maim – from a quiet farm field where fierce fighting once raged during the Vietnam War.
Shortly after the lethal mortars and grenade launcher rounds were taken away, an anxious farmer in her 50s marched over to the de-mining team and expressed her frustration to everyone around.
“I’m afraid of more bombs but I need to work,” she said. “I have to risk death just to earn money.”
The farmer, Van Thi Nga, stumbled across the relics while growing vegetables, the main source of income in her village. Her village sits along the war’s former demarcation zone and is strewn with hidden explosives.
However, there was no time for sympathy as the busy team frankly told her to report other unexploded ordinance (UXO) if she sees more. The bomb disposal experts then did a brief sweep with a metal detector and left to their next call of duty: an unstable bomb in a nearby rice paddy.
De-mining teams in Vietnam face an epic task where roughly 20 percent of the country is littered with UXO. UXO includes everything from bombs, landmines, munitions, and other explosives.
This central Vietnamese province is the worst-hit region, with more than 80 percent of the land still peppered with deadly devices after nearly 350,000 tons of explosives were used.
In total, almost four times more firepower was deployed on Vietnam during the Vietnam War than in all of World War II.
Around 10 percent of the explosives used in the Vietnam War are believed to not have detonated. As a result, up to 800,000 tons of UXO remain in the communist state. That’s even beyond the 635,000 tons of bombs that US forces dropped in the entire Korean War.
“The contamination in Vietnam is huge,” said Portia Stratton, country director of Mine Advisory Group, the largest non-profit de-mining group in Vietnam. “We’re still finding the same number of UXO that we were finding [when we started here] 15 years ago.”
Introduced in 2010, Vietnam’s mine action strategy came years after other UXO-infested nations including its neighbors, Laos and Cambodia. which were also heavily bombed to jam communist supply routes in the war.
“Vietnam is lagging behind a lot of other countries that have significant levels of contamination,” Stratton said. “We still don’t have a full picture of what our efforts have achieved.”
Since the end of the war in 1975, war remnants have killed more than 42,000 Vietnamese and injured at least 62,000 others, according to preliminary statistics by the government.
But with no national database in place, UXO incidents and demining operations cannot be accurately tracked while affected remote areas go unnoticed, advocates say.
In March, the Vietnam National Mine Action Center was launched to provide more oversight in the secretive state, which already had similar mine action bodies at the national level.
Stratton warns that the new center may serve as another bureaucratic layer and further delay mine action services that often take up to one year to get government approval.
Despite its fondness for red tape, Vietnam has revived itself as one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia after devastating warfare with US forces.
In 2009, the country gained lower middle-income status but the distinction has created a sort of Catch-22 paradox as foreign donors redirect funds elsewhere.
“There’s more of a challenge now to enable us to secure funding,” said Rickard Hartmann, country director for APOPO, a Belgium-based demining group. “We are very happy that Vietnam is developing but at the same time more and more donors are reducing their support.”
The 50-member APOPO group began operations in January after the German non-profit Solidarity Service International pulled out its 160 personnel from the area, leaving a two-thirds reduction in skilled labor, he said.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung recently called on the global community to boost support saying that “since the explosive contamination is so great, Vietnam truly needs assistance and support.”
Vietnamese officials claim that $10 billion is required to completely rid existing UXO – a feat that would take up to 300 years for the country to do on its own, they say.
Around 35,000 hectares of unsafe land is cleared annually but the state has ambitious plans to nearly triple that target to 100,000 hectares if external aid is increased.
Yet the government spends about $80 million on mine action, or less than 0.20 percent of its national budget.
Deputy Minister of Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment Nguyen The Phuong admitted that the meager funds “could not meet the actual needs of mine action activities.”
He also cited poor coordination between state and provincial entities, lack of human resources, and technology and equipment shortages as other factors hindering progress.
A 2012 assessment on Vietnam’s mine action program, conducted by the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Deming, revealed that the government and state-connected private investors bankrolled 92 percent of activities from 2007 to 2011.
The government currently expects foreign donors to cover about half of the estimated $368 million required for mine action from 2013 to 2015, according to a 2013 update on the national strategy.
But foreign donors only doled out $8.7 million for mine action in 2012, with the US contributing more than 40 percent of the total, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor reported.
Vietnam may be entitled to more foreign aid if they signed the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions that prohibits their use.
Even so, landmines are seen as legitimate weapons for border security. Officials also reject the cluster bomb pact since the 10-year deadline for member states to finish land clearance is unrealistic to them, they said.
Ironically, cluster bombs would likely delay the country due to how they were dispersed in the war. Hundreds of cluster bombs – each about the size of a tennis ball – were packed inside large airdropped canisters that scattered the bomblets over wide swathes of the countryside.
Although designed to explode on impact, many of them did not.
Enlisting local help
To deal with the funding shortfalls, bomb experts rely on villagers to be their eyes and ears for war remnants.
“To clean up every bomb and mine in Vietnam is impossible,” said Hien Ngo, spokesperson for Project Renew, a demining group that also empowers locals. “It’s a daunting task that will never likely be achieved, so we want to make sure that the land is safe by educating people about the risks.”
Ngo has already seen the value of his group’s education programs that are taught in schools and to those who come to their mine action visitor center in the province’s largest city.
He recalled when a 12-year-old boy halted a crew driving to another call and led them to a cache of 180 explosives concealed in the dense jungle.
“The boy learned what to do after he visited the center,” he said. “Now people are helping us report explosives.”
Nguyen Xuan Tuan, 29, wished he knew the dangers of war relics before he scavenged for scrap metal at a deserted US military base back in 2002.
After his friend found something on a metal detector, Tuan sliced the ground with his shovel. But as he dug deeper, he struck a cluster bomb.
The blast severed his right hand, cut deep scars across his body and knocked him into a three-day coma.
“I woke up seeing my parents crying and I realized that I was in a miserable situation,” he said. “The only thing I could do was cry and think that this was the end of my life.”
Tuan, one of the nation’s five Ban Advocates that campaign against cluster bombs worldwide, is now using his experience to educate others throughout the province.
“I’ve been very lucky to be exposed to the outside world,” he said. “In rural areas, many voices are not being heard and people do not receive the assistance they need.”
By the end of 2015, Vietnam aims to develop a national database and expand risk education to the most dangerous areas.
The US also continues to be the top donor for mine action activities in Vietnam, giving over $62 million so far, officials say.
But 50 years after the US military drastically built up its presence to counter evasive communist fighters, Ngo said that both sides have failed to tackle the aftermath and must “step up” their efforts.
“Although we see positive developments to make the war’s legacy finally history, bombs and mines are still killing and injuring people,” he said.
There is one landmine for every 17 children in the world, says UNICEF. This means one landmine for every 52 people in more than 70 countries. This is a link to a riveting story: it's about things that go boom! and children without legs.
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After the death of a 16 year old boy in Bahrain, local people and the boy's loved ones take to the streets in protest of human rights abuses and harsh treatment by Bahraini security forces.
A sample from a black & white photo essay of survivors of land mine detonations in Cambodia; despite a disproportionately large number of the population affected by land lines, many receive prostheses and a chance at life.