Iraq: New partnership saves lives in Kirkuk

Report
from Mines Advisory Group
Published on 12 Jun 2009
Decades of internal conflict and war have taken a heavy toll on central Iraq: thousands of mines and other remnants of conflict remain throughout the countryside, posing a serious threat to life and limb.

One of the best ways to tackle this threat is to provide Mine Risk Education to those people at-risk - especially children, women who collect water and firewood, nomads, shepherds and farmers.

Mine Risk Education helps minimise the risks for people living, working and travelling through areas contaminated with landmines and/or unexploded ordnance (UXO).

A Mine Risk Education session may include, for example, how to recognise remnants of conflict and mined areas, how to report a dangerous item, what to do in an emergency, information on known areas of contamination and accidents, how to keep others safe, and more.

In January, MAG trained 11 staff members of a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) in delivering these vital safety messages.

With the help of specially designed posters, three mixed gender teams from the NGO were then able to carry out MRE sessions for the most affected communities within Kirkuk governorate.

The number one priority was Farqan village, where there have been 13 accidents since 2003, including six fatalities.

Located 15 kilometres southeast of Kirkuk city, Farqan is home to a large population of internally displaced persons (IDPs). These people are particularly vulnerable, as they are in an unfamiliar environment and may have to walk in areas which, unbeknown to them, are mined or contaminated with UXO.

Getting safety messages to them is vital therefore, ensuring they understand the different threats and what they can do to keep themselves and their families safe.

Fifty families once lived in Farqan, before being forced to flee their homes and move to a nearby town in Chamchamal district when the village was destroyed in 1988, during the conflict between the former Iraqi military and the Peshmerga forces.

At the same time, the Iraqi military started laying landmines in different areas of Farqan to prevent Peshmerga movement in the area. Five minefields were laid in the village in total.

After the US-led invasion in 2003, more than 60 families moved back with the hope of rebuilding their livelihoods, but the heavy mine and UXO contamination in the area made this very difficult.

Reconstruction efforts were slow and hazardous, and as most of the population relies on agriculture and shepherding activities for their livelihoods, to this day landmines and UXO continue to pose a major obstacle to income generation.

Mine Risk Education aims to prevent further death and injury.

MAG's training of the teams in this article was funded by Dutch non-governmental organisation Stichting Vluchteling (Netherlands Refugee Foundation.)