Landmines and unexploded ordinances (UXOs) are a major problem throughout the North and East of Sri Lanka, putting children and their families at risk of injury and death. To help raise awareness of the dangers posed by landmines, the first week of July and August have been designated National Mine Action weeks across Sri Lanka by the National Steering Committee on Mine Action.
July, August and September are the most dangerous months in Sri Lanka for landmine injuries. Each year at this time, people return to their fields to begin planting and harvesting their crops. It is then that the lands of the North and East, seeded with explosives, reap their deadly harvest.
"If we can reach people now so that they take the necessary precautions before they go back to the fields, then we can save lives. That is the aim of the Mine Action weeks," said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka. "We need to keep people focused on the dangers posed by landmines when they go back to the fields to reduce the risks they face each day.
"During these two weeks, activities will be held in Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar, Puttalam, Anuradhapura, Kilinochchi, Batticaloa, Ampara and Trincomalee. Nationally, radio spots will be aired to alert all Sri Lankans to the dangers of landmines and how to protect themselves against injury or death.
"Last year, the intensive efforts of the mine action community, including UNICEF and its partners, had a real impact on decreasing the number of new casualties," said Dr. Kunasingham, senior adviser for the Ministry of RRR. Mine Risk Education activities have played a majhor part in this success. In fact, since 2002, mine accidents have decreased from 12 per month to only 4 per month by the end of 2004.
"Adult males living in Jaffna district make up the majority of those affected by mine accidents.
UNICEF is the lead agency for Mine Risk Education in Sri Lanka and globally, and operates under the overall coordination of the National Steering Committee on Mine Action. UNICEF and it partners focus their work on school and community-based initiatives to educate children and communities about the dangers of landmines and UXOs. UNICEF is also providing support to survivors and is advocating for the government to sign the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty (APMBT) and for the LTTE to sign the Geneva Call (APMBT for non state actors).
UNICEF's partners on mine action include UNDP, the National Institute for Education, the Provincial Departments of Education, Community Trust Fund, Mine Advisory Group, Sarvodaya, Handicap International, Caritas Mannar, Jaipur foot centre Jaffna, The Tamil Refugee Rehabilitation Organization, Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, CHA and White Pigeon.
For further information, please contact:
Geoffrey Keele, UNICEF Sri Lanka
Surangani Abeyesekera, UNICEF Sri Lanka