BAGHDAD, 6 April 2011 (IRIN) - Lack of detailed mine maps in Iraq and the current political instability have hampered mine-clearance efforts, officials say.
"Iraq is one of the most contaminated countries in the world," Deputy Environment Minister Kamal Hussein Latif said. "It has nearly a quarter of the world's landmines and that has become a heavy legacy hindering economic development and health."
Landmines have been laid in Iraq since the 1960s by various governments fighting pro-independence Kurdish rebels in the north; during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war; and in the years prior to the 2003 US-led invasion.
"The hardest challenge we face today is that no maps were left from the previous regime for landmines which were planted randomly - and that makes clearance operations very hard," Latif told reporters in Baghdad at a news conference to mark International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action on 4 April.
Speaking at the same news conference, Daniel Augstburger, chief humanitarian affairs officer at the UN Assistance Mission, said: "Clearance is very slow due to security constraints. The unexploded devices are one of the main principle reasons stopping development in Iraq."
The longer the mines were left in the ground, Augstburger added, the more dangerous they would become to local communities, and the more they would affect agricultural and economic activity.
Iraq joined the Ottawa Convention which bans the use of anti-personnel mines in 2008, committing itself not to use, produce, acquire or export landmines. It also committed to clearing all its landmines by 2018.
However, Latif said Iraq would not be able to meet that target because of insecurity and the lack of professional deminers. Currently, there are only about 2,000 at the Defence Ministry, and 13 private companies.
"If I want to clear all the landmines in the coming 10 years, I need hundreds of specialized companies and 19,000 professional deminers," he said.
According to UN figures Iraq's contaminated sites cover an estimated 1,730sqkm and affect around 1.6 million people. Landmines and unexploded ordnance killed or injured an average of two Iraqis every week in 2009, of whom 80 percent were boys and young men aged 15-29. Between 48,000 and 68,000 Iraqis have undergone amputations due to landmine and unexploded ordinances.
In May or June, Latif said, the government will start a national programme to determine contaminated areas and the exact number of the landmines.
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