February 4, 2016 Kabul, Afghanistan.
On 10 April 2015, in Maywand District of Kandahar province, two brothers aged ten and eight found an explosive remnant of war (ERW) when they ventured onto a former international military high explosive training range. They were from the Kochi (nomad) tribal of Afghanistan, and were tending animals. It exploded when it was handled, resulting in their tragic deaths.
Fortunately, they were the only casualties in 2015 caused by ERW abandoned on the ranges. This is a dramatic improvement from previous years. From 2009 to December 2015, the United Nations Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan (UNMACA) recorded 138 casualties resulting from ERW accidents in or around ISAF facilities. Forty‐two were fatal. Of the 138 casualties, 75 percent were children.
The positive impact of the clearance of unexploded ordnance such as mortar shells and grenades is evident in the declining casualty statistics. In 2014, when clearance operations began, 19 casualties were reported from training ranges. This is less than half of the 50 casualties reported in 2013 and the 46 casualties reported in 2012. Though tragic, the two casualties in 2015 demonstrate the very real impact the removal of ERW has had in less than two years.
The existence of landmines and unexploded ordnance in Afghanistan are constant threats to the lives of millions of Afghan citizens. The survey and clearance of the ISAF training ranges is the largest, most complex programme of its kind in the world. The clearance of unexploded ordnance is addressed under Protocol V of the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons ‐ 1981. It is carried out through the coordination and quality management of the Directorate of Mine Action Coordination (DMAC). The ranges were used by international forces to improve coalition force skills for different types of weaponry and to train Afghan national security forces. As ISAF redeployed and closed the military bases, civilians had access to the ranges.
To date, the project has cleared 501 square kilometers with 610.4 square kilometers remaining. Over 93,000 UXOs and 68,438 Small Arm Ammunitions (SAA) explosives have been removed. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2016. While similar test range clearance operations have been carried out by international forces in other countries such as Libya and Iraq, none have been on the scale of the ongoing operation in Afghanistan.
In 2009 and 2010, a growing number of casualties were being identified as originating from the high explosive training ranges that were a part of most international military bases in Afghanistan, especially as these bases were closed down or handed over to the Government of Afghanistan.
Following the reports of civilian casualties from these ranges, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), the UNMACA and the DMAC of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan lobbied ISAF to take responsibility for this hazard. Responding positively, in December 2013, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed a contract with an American company for clearance of 84 firing ranges that had been used by the U.S. military.
Funding support is provided by the United States of America and the United Kingdom for the ranges used by their forces. Other coalition forces including Germany, Spain, Lithuania, Sweden and New Zealand have all indicated a preparedness to arrange for the clearance of their ranges.
In addition to clearing operations, the project has conducted an extensive campaign to educate communities about the risk of mines and UXO on the ranges. As of 31 December, 2015, over 744,000 civilians living near the ranges have received information about the UXO threat. For more information please see our website: www.macca.org.af
According to His Excellency Wais Ahmad Barmak, State Minister for Disaster Management and Humanitarian Affairs, “beside all other demining operations in Afghanistan, clearance of ERW from the former High Explosives Training Ranges (HETR) helps save civilians’ lives. The NATO troop contributing nations are commended for their commitment to make the ranges they used safe and available for productive use. The Government and people remain committed, with the help of the international community, to continue to work towards the goal of a mine‐free and ERW‐free Afghanistan by 2023”.
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