UNAMA's weekly press conference: Mine Action Day approaches
KABUL - Transcript of press conference in Kabul with Dr Haider Reza, Programme Director of the Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan (MACCA).
MACCA (DR HAIDER REZA): Ladies and gentlemen, once more it is a pleasure to be among you. This week we will celebrate International Mine Action Day on 4 April. Now, this is a day that actually celebrates the achievements and the success of mine action globally – destroying mines, anti-personnel mines, anti-tank mines, as well as Explosive Remnants of War (ERW). At the same time, this is an opportunity to underline the problems and the difficulties of the people as well as the country – they have suffered and they are still suffering because of the presence of mines and explosive remnants of war. For that purpose we have a series of events this week that I will outline.
One of the events that we are planning is on Saturday 3 April, at OMAR, which is close to the stadium. There you will see disabled people, those that have somehow unfortunately been affected by mines and ERW, who have been trained in different sectors receiving equipment based on their training on that day. And you will see some of them there operating and showing some of the skills they have acquired.
There is also an airplane that has been transformed into a classroom for mine risk education. You will have an opportunity to see an ongoing session. In addition there is a museum there and if you have not already visited it, it is very interesting. I have visited that place a couple of times and on show there are the different weapons, the ammunition, mines and so forth that have been used in the last 30 years in Afghanistan. You will also see some samples there and also some of the weapons even from the 19th century. So that will be an event that I hope to see most of you at.
On 4 April, we have another event in our office, which is close to Charahi Saddarat, right next to Alfalah Bank. Some of you are aware of the fact that in February we had a drawing contest for children on mine risk education and for them to draw certain messages that could be used for mine risk education and to teach other children and adults how to avoid dangerous mines and ERW. Now those drawings that were judged and the winners of that competition will be assisted by professional artists and they will draw their drawings onto our wall and they will remain on that wall. And this is of course for the promotion and encouragement of the children and also for mine risk education and to pass on messages to the people.
Now a little bit of information regarding the mine action programme in this country. In 2009, part of 1388, our calendar year, and also in the first couple months of 1389, or 2010, the mine action programme was carried out in 1,810 communities in 33 provinces. 212 communities were cleared of mines and ERW. And, in another 710 communities, there were programmes for mine risk education. Now, as far as the manpower for the Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan is concerned, it has more than 10,000 personnel, out of which 653 mine action teams are actually destroying the mines and the ERW on the ground. There are also 84 mine risk education teams working throughout the country. Another interesting piece of information: Although mine action may look expensive, the cost of clearance is very expensive, but the remaining number of communities, or impacted areas in terms of kilometres, and the number people living in these areas, it only takes US$ 277 per person to clear all the rest of the contaminated area, so in reality it is not very expensive.
One last piece of information I’d like to give you is that in the first two months of 2010, 1,727 anti-personnel mines, 135 anti-tank mines have been destroyed, and more than 110,000 different types of ERW were destroyed; and also 19 communities have been cleared of mines and Explosive Remnants of War. In addition 150,000 people, of different ages, men and women, girls and boys, have received mine risk education.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
SABA TV [translated from Dari]: Do you know of any new mines, especially anti-personnel mines that have been planted, especially in the south of the country, made maybe by Iran or maybe by other countries?
MACCA: As I said in the past, our office does not have concrete evidence to point to the fact that new anti-personnel mines were planted in different parts of the country. What is obvious is that the incidents of IEDs have increased a lot, as we are all aware, especially in the south and in Helmand and Kandahar. This is a problem that we are faced with and unfortunately it does take victims on a daily basis.
RADIO KILLID [translated from Dari]: What is the budget for your programme and, while you claim that no new anti-personnel mines have been used, what about the incident in Marjah, where people were affected by explosions?
MACCA: Regarding the first part of the question, unfortunately funding is still a problem for us. If we have the funding we can do a whole lot more. So the problem of our budget still remains and you have heard me in the past say that if we have enough money, we can always find ways around security challenges, simply by implementing community-based demining programmes.
Regarding the second half of the question, as I said, according to the information we have and according to the pictures we have, some of the explosive devices used in Marjah or in Nowzad are very locally made, even containers of cooking oil. They have been designed and made using local materials, such as dry cell batteries as well as planks of wood and from this they design their own explosive devices so that when a vehicle crosses over the wooden plank and it is broken, the explosion takes place.
BBC PASHTO [translated from Pashto]: What are your plans for 2010-2011 and what new plans do you have that you would like to carry out?
MACCA: One thing which is very crucial is of course the community-based demining programme. What we are trying to do is actually expand community-based demining operations throughout the country. By doing so of course, not only do we clear impacted communities in Afghanistan, but also by training the youth from the community, by providing a small salary and by hiring vehicles from the community we are actually injecting cash into the community and that’s of course a kind of encouragement and incentive so the youth will not turn to the opposition. Now of course, aside from this we still have our mine risk education programme that we are working on and hoping to expand, as well as the traditional mine action programme that has been carried out for the last 20 years. We would like to see that continue and of course that is very much dependent on the availability of funds. But we are hopeful to be able do more to help the country and the people as much as possible.
IRNA [translated from Dari]: What is the budget that you requested for 2010-2011 and what is the exact figure in terms of the number of mines and explosive devices in country?
MACCA: For 2010-11 we have asked for about US$ 242 million of which about US$ 100 million is confirmed. But a huge portion still remains to be received. Regarding the second part of your question, we do not have exact figures in terms of how many thousands of mines or anti-personnel or anti-tank or other explosive devices are in the country. But what I can say is that in terms of square kilometres we still have around 600 square kilometres of Afghanistan that is impacted by mines and explosive remnants of war – some 6,300 communities live in those areas.
TOLO TV [translated from Dari]: How many victims are there as a result of mines and explosive remnants of war in Afghanistan and what’s your plan for 2010-11 in terms of how much you are going to clear in Afghanistan?
MACCA: According to our figures, up to 60,000 people have been affected by mines and ERW in Afghanistan. In the last couple of months – January and February 2010 – we have had 74 explosions resulting in victims.
On the second part of your question, our plan is very much depending on funding, but our estimation is that we will be able to clear between 100 and 120 square kilometres.
CHANNEL ONE [translated from Dari]: Of the 74 people who were victims in the first two months of this year was that an increase or a decrease in the number of victims compared to previous year?
MACCA: Three years ago it was more than 150 people per month. Last year was 40 victims on average per month. For the first two months of this year we can say that there are 37 victims a month but that is still near an average of 40 per month.
NEGAH TV [translated from Dari]: What is your plan for this year and especially for operations in Ghazni?
MACCA: As some of you might be aware, Ghazni has been declared the Capital of Islamic Civilization for 2013 by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. For this we are aiming to clear Ghazni city and the vicinity around it. In order to get more funding and to enable us to do more, we have submitted proposals especially to the Islamic countries in the Gulf, like the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, in order to see if we can get funding to do more, especially around Ghazni.
RFE/RL: Has the security situation had an impact on your operations, especially in the south of the country and do you have figures on the number of mines and other explosive devices that are planted throughout the country?
MACCA: Yes, security has become a big challenge and especially in the south of the country. Just three days ago, I am sure that some of you heard about the very unfortunate accident in Uruzgan, when one of our teams was travelling to the work site, their vehicle was hit by an explosion and two people were killed and two others were wounded.
Having said that and you are also aware that, from time to time, mine action people and demining teams have deliberately become the target of an attack or sometimes they have been abducted. This is a sad reality and a challenge and a concern to us, especially in the south of the country.
However, through the community-based demining programme, we have been able to continue to carry out our mine action programme in volatile areas. Of course, this is with the help of the community elders and other people in the community where they take responsibility to secure the security of the mine action people.
On figures, especially when it comes to IEDs, we do not have exact figures. Most of the IEDs are planted on a daily basis so at our office we do not have any exact figures.
SHAMSHAD TV [translated from Pashto]: You talked about the remaining 6,300 communities or in other words 600 square kilometres of un-cleared land. How much time will it take to clear the whole country and how much budget do you need?
MACCA: If we are able to clear up to 120 square kilometres annually, of course depending on the funding, it will probably take somewhere between 5-6 years to clear it. In terms of the budget, we would like to see if we can have about US$ 500,000 million to get the job done.
SALAM WATANDAR [translated from Dari]: Where are the mines from that are found in Afghanistan?
MACCA: The majority of these mines are from the former Soviet Union. But nevertheless over all these years there have been different types of mines from different countries such as Italy, England, Pakistan, Iran and Russia of course that have been used in this country.