Handicap International dispatches an expert to start destroying explosive remnants of war
Mali: Handicap International has dispatched one of its experts to Mali tasked with identifying the areas contaminated with the unexploded remnants of war and preparing, in collaboration with our partners already in the country, destruction operations, with the aim of protecting the local population.
The initial findings are alarming and the association is mobilising an emergency weapons clearance team which should be operational as of next week. Civilians are gradually returning to the war zones which are now littered, not only with explosive remnants of war, but also small arms and light weapons abandoned by fleeing soldiers. Action needs to be taken as quickly as possible in order to avoid accidents.
“We are finding grenades, shells and munitions strewn along the roads and sometimes even inside houses” “I am currently in Diabali, one of the towns which has recently seen fighting. The extent of the contamination is a grave concern. Grenades and munitions are strewn along the roads around the pick-ups which were targeted by bombing, shelling and attacks using other conventional weapons which have been abandoned in houses right in the town centre... each one represents a lethal threat to the local population who are now starting to return to their homes,” explains Philippe Houliat, a weapons clearance expert for Handicap International. “There is an imminent threat to local populations. We therefore need to urgently reinforce our risk education teams who warn local people about the dangers of these devices, and simultaneously start working to destroy these weapons and munitions.”
“In Konna the contamination is so severe that our team has already carried out emergency awareness-raising” In parallel to the awareness-raising actions carried out since last summer in the North of the country and with persons displaced within the country, Handicap International has deployed teams to assess, zone by zone the needs in terms of population protection. The mission will also identify zones contaminated with unexploded remnants of war in order to prepare the clearance operations (neutralisation and destruction). Yesterday, the team dispatched to Konna to carry out this mission observed such extensive contamination that they decided to immediately carry out emergency awareness-raising with the town's populations. ”We identified so many unexploded remnants of war that it was imperative that we warn the local population before continuing with our evaluation mission,” explains Alhous Maïga, Arms Risk Education and Information Collection Project Manager in Mopti.
“Schools are due to open again on Monday and some of them probably still contain weapons or munitions” For Alhous Maïga, the awareness-raising actions carried out by Handicap International’s teams are indispensable and more such actions need to be implemented to avoid accidents over the coming weeks. “Schools are due to open again this Monday and some of them have been used as bases by fighters who used them to store munitions and probably weapons and explosive devices. We are very afraid there will be accidents. In-depth evaluations need to be carried out; trained teams capable of neutralising these weapons dispatched where required; and teachers and children need to be made aware of the dangers so they can recognise and stay away from any dangerous devices."
The first weapons clearance team operation as of next week As of next week, the first weapons clearance team made up of international experts (from Mauritania, Senegal, and the Republic of Congo) working together with Malian staff will be ready to start neutralising the unexploded devices identified during the evaluation mission currently underway. The set-up will be scaled up to four teams before the end of February.