Iraq

Iraq: Drive to raise awareness of unexploded ordnance in south

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BASRA, 5 June 2007 (IRIN) - Southern based non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been providing local children with information about mines and how to prevent accidents in areas still affected by Unexploded Ordnances (UXOs) left over from 25 years of war.

"We noticed that many children were UXO victims in the southern provinces because of the lack of information from local authorities. Our duty is to make people aware of the dangers of such mines and what to do if they find one," said Mayada Obeid, a spokesperson for South Peace Organisation, an NGO based in Basra.

"Many international NGOs are working hard to deactivate mines but the process is slow, and with the violence increasing, workers are facing difficulties in clearing the area fast. For these reasons we don't know when such areas will be safe again so in the meantime we have to stop more people falling victim," Obeid added.

"At least one to two individuals are victims of UXOs on a daily basis in the southern provinces, with children representing about 70 percent of the victims," Hassan Farhan, a media officer in the Basra Governorate health department, said.

"There are no precise figures on the number of people who have died from UXOs since the 1980s, but since 2003 there have been at least 560 victims, many of them children," Hussam Jaffar, a clinician and member of the Basra Union Against War Mines, said. "In most cases there is nothing we can do," he added.

"It is very difficult to estimate how many landmines there still are in southern Iraq but they run into thousands. If not cleared they could kill or maim thousands," Farhan said, adding: "The most heavily affected community is the village of Jurf al-Malh, close to the Shat al-Arab waterway near the Iranian border which was on the front line in the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war."

According to recent local NGO studies, there are at least 800,000 metric tonnes of UXOs in and around Basra - mainly unused ammunition, bombs, rockets and mortars discarded by fleeing Iraqi troops.

Very little is known about the impact of uncleared mines and UXOs on local communities. Surveys over the past four years suggest that unexploded cluster bombs are among the threats facing local communities.

Local NGO projects have had some success. Volunteers visit families especially in rural areas and talk to them about how to avoid accidents.

"In addition to the lecture, we offer some printed material in Arabic with telephone numbers to ring if they find a bomb. Children are told what mines consist of and what to do if they find one and we raise awareness of the dangers by showing photos and interviews with victims who have become handicapped," Obeid said.

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