In-depth: The landmine hangover
SENEGAL: Mine survivors need opportunities not handouts
A sign in Senegal's Casamance region warning of potential presence of landmines
ZIGUINCHOR, 16 September 2009 (IRIN) - This club does not want any new members.
One of the principal goals of Senegal’s Association of Mine Victims (ASVM) is to ensure that its membership will not grow, by travelling around Casamance, southern Senegal, to educate people about the hazards of mines.
“Many areas still pose a risk of landmines,” ASVM president Bacary Diédhiou told IRIN. “And we – who have survived mine accidents – are well-placed to tell people about the potential danger.”
At least 93 villages and more than 70km of roads and paths are believed to be contaminated by antipersonnel mines or unexploded ordnance – part of the fallout
of Casamance’s armed conflict dating to 1982. The government antimines action centre (CNAMS) has recorded 748 mine accident victims, 586 surviving, since the 1990s – 52 since 2005; landmine experts say the number of victims is likely higher.
Along with educating communities about mines, ASVM advocates for mine survivors and supports them and their families.
The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL
) – a coalition of NGOs – recently called on signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty
to step up assistance to victims as stipulated in the treaty. ICBL is watching countries’ progress in the run-up to the November summit
in Cartagena, Colombia, the second review conference on the status of the treaty
, which entered into force in 1999.
“States should come to Cartagena ready to firmly declare their determination to remain true to the humanitarian objectives of the Mine Ban Treaty,” ICBL said in a 15 September statement.
|Help [a mine victim] to become self-reliant. Outside assistance is not forever
In its communiqué ICBL says it often hears that the current financial and political environment is not conducive to long-term commitments to mine action. “If the environment puts pressure on states’ budgets, what about the constant pressure on those for whom daily survival is already a challenge?”
CNAMS head of education and victim assistance, Seyni Diop, said the centre has supported ASVM and has provided funds to a local hospital and orthopaedic centre for victim assistance; he said CNAMS will continue to provide financial assistance to survivors. The centre is also supporting NGOs in seeking donor funds for demining, mine awareness programmes and victim assistance, he said.
Boubine Touré, ICBL representative in Senegal, told IRIN the government has fallen short of its obligation to victims, adding that the government must take the lead in funding. “The Senegalese government must stop waiting for aid from outside donors to assist mine victims. It must begin by putting up its own funding; it is an obligation.”
For ASVM members, assistance is not just medical care and counselling, but also education, skills training and agricultural assistance. Self-sufficiency must be the aim, members told IRIN.
“It is not about just giving handouts to mine victims,” said ASVM member Mamady Gassama. “Help him or her to become self-reliant. Outside assistance is not forever.”
One project ASVM is working on would make 30 hectares of land south of Casamance’s main city Ziguinchor available to mine victims as well as to local residents, for market gardening, livestock farming and other agricultural work.
Photo: Nancy Palus/IRIN
|One type of landmine found in Casamance, southern Senegal
“The fact that someone has a mine injury does not mean he or she cannot be productive and take part in the country’s development,” ASVM’s Diédhiou said.
Gassama, a mine survivor and university student, said it is not one’s injury in itself that constitutes a handicap – it is rather a lack of access to the means to make a living and improve one’s life, family and community.
“Everyone has some kind of ‘handicap’ compared with someone else; the key is that a person be given the means to work and improve his/her living conditions.”
He said support by UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been critical in his and other survivors’ ability to continue their education.
Christina de Bruin, head of UNICEF in Casamance, told IRIN over the years ASVM in partnership with UNICEF has helped young mine survivors attend school and play an active role in society.
“It is important that survivors are able to actively participate in all parts of family, school and community life.”
ASVM members have taken part in discussions on a new action plan, for 2009-2014, which Senegal – as a Mine Ban Treaty signatory – is to present at the November summit, Gassama said. “We must have a voice in that process. No one can know our priorities as we do.”