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Iran: Mine awareness training for border aid workers

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TEHRAN, 21 March (IRIN) - The first group of Iranian Red Crescent workers and teachers of the Literacy Movement, a state department promoting literacy in remote areas, have undergone a two-day mine-awareness training course in the western province of Kermanshah in order to deal with any mine incidents on the border if refugees leave Iraq in large numbers as a result of the fighting there.
Iran is reportedly the third most heavily mined country in the world. It is believed that some 16 million mines and items of unexploded ordnance (UXO), are scattered over an area of 42,000 sq km as a legacy of the eight-year war with Iraq.

The mine-risk education programme was arranged by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Iran for 32 participants. "The training focused on the programme's most relevant components that in the short term would get a meaningful on-the-ground capacity up and running," Andy Wheatley, a mine action consultant currently working for UNICEF-Iran, told IRIN in the capital, Tehran, after conducting the course in Kermanshah.

Starting with a general introduction on what mines are and their purpose, Wheatley said one of the integral parts of the course was developing possible methodologies to be used by Red Crescent workers and Literacy Movement teachers in educating local populations on mines - especially children whose lives are endangered by them.

"This could include working through key informants in the community, community based activities and schools," he said, adding that one of the most important issues was how the workers would use the information in developing safety messages after completing the course.

"It is a new area for us, especially to protect refugees and a useful component of our relief efforts," Mostafa Mohaghegh, the director-general of the international affairs department of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, told IRIN in Tehran.

With the possibility of refugees crossing into Iran, Wheatley said it was vital for anyone coming into the country to receive information on entry. "Basic information should be handed out as often as possible." He added that local people in the area said there were regular casualties from mines and UXO. "It's difficult to say how many mines there are and where they are, and it is a painful learning process for any country with mines."

"It will be a slow process, but this is a good and valuable start," Wheatley said. UNICEF hopes to continue the training programme to ensure people - children in particular - near mined areas live safely.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has in the past offered the Islamic Republic of Iran support in the country's ongoing efforts to resolve the mine issue in the western border provinces of Khuzestan, Ilam, Kermanshah, Kurdistan and West Azarbaijan. Many antipersonnel and antitank mines remain scattered in these areas.

Last year UNDP signed a US $470,000 project with the interior ministry to address the negative humanitarian and socioeconomic impacts of widespread contamination caused by landmines and UXO. According to the UN, 24,000 people are killed globally each year by landmines, with hundreds of thousands more seriously injured or maimed for life. There are about 120,000 antipersonnel mines in the world today, injuring 70 people each day and killing one every 15 minutes. Approximately 30 to 40 percent of landmine victims are under the age of 15.

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