UN agencies call for international help to clear mines

Marking the third annual International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action on 4 April, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) called for a global effort to help Iraq in its mine clearance operations.

“In addition to insecurity, Iraqis live amid one of the greatest concentrations of landmines, unexploded ordnance [UXO] and other explosive remnants of war [ERW] in the world,” the agencies said in a joint statement.

David Shearer, Deputy Special Representative for the UN Secretary-General and UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, called for increased efforts to cleanse Iraq of ERW.

“They inflict life-long injuries, deny access to productive land and undermine freedom of movement, including for the delivery of humanitarian relief. We need to increase efforts to reduce the harm they cause, and treat their victims,” Shearer said.

Danger of UXOs

UNICEF made mention of the danger that UXOs posed for children, who often mistake small bombs for toys. It said a quarter of the 565 UXO Iraqi victims in 2006 were under 18.

“The risk to children from UXOs is unacceptable,” Roger Wright, UNICEF representative for Iraq, said. “The damage they inflict extends beyond the physical, restricting children’s ability to go to school safely and enjoy a normal childhood. Comprehensive awareness and risk education is essential as their best defence.”

These calls were echoed by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, who appealed to the international community to provide materials and technical support to his country’s Environment Ministry and its Mines Commission for operations to remove about 25 million mines littered in some 4,000 minefields nationwide.

“There are also some 90 million pieces of unexploded ordinance scattered as munitions, bombs and other explosive devices - and these are very hard to deal with due to the limited capabilities of the government,” Salih said at a press conference held in Baghdad on 4 April.