UN helps Iraq clear 500 kilometres of land of deadly unexploded mines

Nearly 500 square kilometres in Iraq have been cleared of landmines over the past year thanks to United Nations-backed efforts to rid the country of potentially deadly unexploded remnants of war, most of them seeded in densely populated regions in the centre and south, the world body announced today.
"Mine action is crucial not only to the safety of the Iraqi people but also to their economic advancement," said Staffan de Mistura, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Deputy Special Representative for Humanitarian, Reconstruction and Development Affairs.

"Dangerous areas cannot be farmed, but safe land is potentially productive land," he added. "And agricultural production feeds not only people but also development."

Approximately one out of every five Iraqis - or 5.4 million people - lives within one kilometre of areas highly contaminated by explosive remnants of war.

Since the Security Council outlined the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) roughly one year ago, the world body's presence has helped boost national efforts to cope with the legacy of successive wars endured by the Iraqi people in recent decades.

With $3 million in donor funding, the UN launched a project which has trained over two dozen National Explosive Ordnance Disposal Teams from the National Mine Action Authority.

Over 490,380 square meters have been cleared thanks to the removal of 3,715 mines or other explosive ordnance items, such as shells.

The UN has also provided staff to Iraq's National Mine Action Authority while helping it to develop information materials - including posters and television spots - aimed at alerting families, especially children, to the dangers of unexploded remnants of war.

Minefields in Iraq date back to the First World War, but these "crops of war" are mainly the result of more recent violence, including the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, conflicts between rival ethnic and political parties, the military actions of 1990/1991 and the ongoing war, which started in 2003.