Posted by Sadie from D007085.N1.Vanderbilt.Edu (188.8.131.52) on Sunday, June 15, 2003 at 12:18PM :
Widespread landmines pose danger to returnees
12 June 2003
ERBIL - Twenty-year-old Nafis Tahir will never walk again. He will find it difficult to find a job, and perhaps never marry. Two months ago, however, the picture was very different.
In the middle of preparations for final high school exams, Nafis made a routine visit to his parents, who live in a village some 40 km from the northern city of Kirkuk.
"When I arrived, my uncles called me to the front of the house to join them for tea. While walking towards them I noticed a shiny object on the ground. Not realising what it was, I kicked at it. My parents told me there was then a loud noise and a lot of blood, but I can't remember that. I think I must have fainted," he told IRIN.
As a result of the explosion, Nafis had to have both his left leg and right foot amputated. But the young man remains determined to go back to school. "I know it will not be the same, but I want to finish my last year at school. I worked very hard for that," he said.
Often having served as the battlefield for international and internal conflicts, northern Iraq is considered to be one of the most landmine-infested regions in the country. Since the end of the latest war almost two months ago, humanitarian groups have seen a rise in the number of mine-accident victims.
At the NGO-run Emergency Surgical Centre for War Victims (Emergency) in Erbil all the beds are occupied. Since 4 April, the NGO has assisted almost 470 mine victims.
"In most cases, people were injured while travelling on foot between cities. Often they decide to take alternative routes that are not entirely safe. A large number of the people we have treated in the last two months had been living in Kirkuk for years, and after the war decided to come to Erbil to see if conditions were better," an Emergency field officer, Donatella Faresa, told IRIN.
She added that another group at risk was shepherds since most mines were found in rural parts of the region.
Funded by the UNOPS Mine Action Programme (UNOPS MAP), Emergency has since March 1995 provided much-needed support for victims of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Iraq's northern, largely Kurdish-populated region. Alongside the two surgical centres it operates in the Sulaymaniyah and Arbil governorates, the NGO has a network of 22 first-aid posts that provide out-patient treatment for less urgent cases.
However, an integral part of the treatment is the rehabilitation of patients who "often feel that lives are over after the injury", Faresa said.
For six months after the prosthetic fitting, patients are provided with vocational training such as tailoring, carpentry and shoemaking. It is hoped that this training will improve their chances of finding employment.
Mine contamination affects some 1,100 communities across northern Iraq, with reported accidents averaging nearly 30 per month.
Since 1995, UNOPS MAP, funded by the Oil-For-Food Programme, has cleared over 10,500 antitank and antipersonnel mines, and destroyed over 78,000 items of UXO.
"Much has been accomplished since the start of the programme, but it must be admitted that it would be virtually impossible to clear all the landmines. So we concentrate on clearing those areas of land most used by people on a daily basis," Harasha Gunawardene, a MAP spokesman, told IRIN.
One of MAP's priorities in the next six months will be to access the five-kilometre strip extending into Iraq from the border with Iran which, under the former government, was off limits to mine-clearance groups. "Our research has shown us that the five-kilometre zone is infested with landmines. This is extremely dangerous, especially for Iraqi refugees in Iran who are using the back roads to get back into the country," Gunawardene said.
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