DUSHANBE, 21 Apr 2005 (IRIN) - Landmines continue to remain a source of concern in Tajikistan, particularly in the north, with the number of mine victims in the area increasing over the past few months, according to mine action officials.
"The issue of landmines remains complicated, particularly on the Uzbek border in the north," Jonmakhmad Rajabov, head of the Tajik Mine Action Centre (TMAC), told IRIN in the capital, Dushanbe, at the meeting of the advisory committee of donor countries and organisations supporting demining efforts in the country on Thursday.
According to TMAC, 14 local residents fell victim to anti-personnel mines on the Tajik-Uzbek border in 2004, of whom seven died and another seven were wounded. But in the first two months of 2005 alone, nine people were affected by landmines, of whom four were killed.
William Lawrence, senior technical adviser for mine action with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Tajikistan, cited limited land resources in the former Soviet republic as a key factor contributing to the growing landmine risk.
More than 90 percent of Tajikistan's territory is mountainous and the population living close to the mine-affected areas are forced to live in limited space and expand the areas of their economic activity at a risk to their lives, the UNDP expert explained.
Sharing that view, Davron Yuldashev, deputy head of the Tajikistan Red Crescent Society (TRCS), explained: "People do not have place to pasture their cattle and pick firewood during the wintertime. Therefore, although being aware of the mine risk, they have to go to these fields to keep their households going."
In an effort to tackle the issue, TMAC, supported by the UNDP, plans to continue a number of projects in 2005, including raising community landmine awareness, installing warning signs in minefields and giving assistance and support to the activities of the orthopaedic centre in the capital.
Moreover, TMAC plans to carry out a number of new projects, pending support from donors, including the establishment of a mine detection dog centre, Lawrence maintained. Trained dogs can help lower the cost of demining several times as they can locate mines more effectively. Experts say that it might take a day to clear just 2 sq metres by manual detection, but just minutes for a mine dog.
Lawrence estimated that the project would require US $300,000, but noted its potential benefits. "Expenses will be rewarded a hundredfold as it will be a regional centre. There is no such centre in the whole of Central Asia," he said.
Another aspect in tackling the issue was providing alternative livelihoods to vulnerable populations by providing land plots for farming and animal husbandry to help them build their economic sustainability, Yuldashev said.
Meanwhile, the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) has conducted several training sessions for Tajik deminers this, as well as a six-week course on providing the first medical aid to mine victims, David Smith, head of the FSD project, told IRIN. A FSD research group is currently working in five minefields in the eastern Rasht Valley, about 300 km from Dushanbe. Demining works will start in that region when weather conditions improved, Smith added.
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