Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan Newsletter: November 2011

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The newly-appointed United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) Programme Unit Chief, Paul Heslop, visited the Mine Action Coordination Center of Afghanistan (MACCA) for four days in November to reaffirm UNMAS’ commitment to the project and witness activities first-hand.

During his visit, he spoke to some of the key stakeholders in the Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan (MAPA) and attended a hand-over ceremony in Shahrake Aruzo, a recently cleared area in the Darlaman district just outside of Kabul. Afghan Technical Consultants (ATC), MACCA’s Implementing Partner for the project, led Paul around the former minefield, located inside a village and punctuated by clusters of dun-colored houses.

The site, where mines and other explosives were laid during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the civil war, had just gone through great changes – and more change was underway.

In what had been, until recent weeks, a minefield, a group of boys played a lively game of football. In the distance, workmen were laying down a foundation for a house.

“It is incredibly satisfying,” Paul said. “The place I am standing now was mined 10 years ago. Now we see houses built, roads opened and children playing.”

“After the fall of Taliban, refugees and IDPs rushed back to reclaim their land, to reclaim their homes,” he continued. “As they entered west Kabul, there were 10 plus casualties in a day in where I am standing now.”

Paul had first come to Afghanistan in 1997 as a deminer. He continued working in mine action, moving into management, first at HALO Trust, and then at the United Nations. In his current position at UNMAS, he oversees the agency’s global programming, including the UNMAS-supported MACCA, which is responsible for the coordination of all mine action activities in Afghanistan.

Surveying the work done, Paul said: “Afghanistan is a success story. Millions of items have been cleared of this country. So potentially a million casualties have been saved by effective, targeted, well planned mine action”.

“A mine does not care how old you are, how big you are, what gender you are or what nationality you are; when you step on it, it will take your leg regardless your background. The real thing to understand about mines in Afghanistan is they affect everybody, but the people who are affected the most are the poorest,” said Paul.

Thanking the donors and other international organization for their support to MAPA, Paul noted: “Without the commitment of international organizations, without the commitment of the donor nations, Afghanistan would have still a massive mine problem.”

Clearance activities in this area employed community-based demining, which means deminers were hired from the community being cleared.

Kefayatullah Eblagh, founder and director of ATC, the implementing partner that cleared the area, summarized: “We reduced casualties and supported the community by providing them with jobs as deminers. A major problem in our country is lack of jobs, and by employing over 500 people in this community, we helped their children to go to school and the deminers to feed their families.”

ATC started demining operations in Shahrake Aruzo in March 2011 and finished by the end of November, at which point the area was officially handed over to the community.

Shahrake Aruzo is part of the Kabul City Clearance Project (KCCP). The KCCP’s first phase was funded by donor contributions to the Voluntary Trust Fund for Mine Action. Operations started in January 2011, and are expected to be completed by January 2012, resulting in the clearance of 44 minefields, and covering almost 2.3 square kilometers. The second phase of the project is not yet funded, and MACCA is now seeking to secure funds to complete the clearance of Kabul City.