International Mine Awareness Day marked

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Sunday past (4 April) was International Mine Awareness Day with the UN marking it for the 16th time, following the General Assembly declaring the date the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action in 2005.

A number of events took place at UN headquarters in New York as well as at regional offices and missions and a special news feature on demining in conflict-torn Afghanistan.

At the same time the US Department of State released the 20th edition of “To Walk the Earth in Safety”, a report on achievements of the US conventional weapons destruction programme.

“The US is the world’s single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction, investing more than $4 billion in over 100 countries since 1993 to promote international peace and security by addressing humanitarian hazards from landmines and unexploded ordnance in post-conflict countries, as well as by partnering with nations to reduce the availability of excess, loosely-secured, or otherwise at-risk small arms and light weapons and munitions. In 2020, the US funded conventional weapons destruction efforts in 49 countries with more than $259 million,” the department said in a statement.

The UN went “personal” in its Mine Awareness Day message focussing on the efforts of an Afghan woman.

The bravery and hard work of deminers such as Fezeh Rezaye, the Afghan province of Bamyan has been declared free from mines. She shares her story.

More than three decades of armed conflict in Afghanistan left a sad legacy, with mines, and other explosive remnants of war, contaminating the country. Since 1989, the Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan (MAPA) has been working to clear this dangerous material but, with conflict still ongoing, some 120 civilian mine-relate casualties are recorded every month, and it is considered unlikely that the target of declaring the country free from mines will be reached.

Although explosive remnants of war remain on some firing ranges, Bamyan was declared mine-free since 2019, making it the first mine-free province in Afghanistan, following years of demining work that saw explosive devices removed from some 27,012,116 square meter of contaminated land with explosive devices.

Fezeh Rezaye, a 26-year-old mother of two, is a member of a 19-strong, all-female demining team, honoured for their efforts by the Arms Control Association, which awarded them the Arms Control Person International Award in 2019. She explains that a tragic incident led her to put aside her ambition to be a teacher, and take up hazardous demining work instead.

“Most families are still afraid of this job. Parents look on this work as dangerous and risky. Some districts of Bamyan have cultural restrictions as well and don’t appreciate women working for money.

“For now, we have work in Bamyan, because there are still explosive devices on firing ranges. I am concerned about job security because, once these are cleared, I may not be able to work in other provinces, many dominated by the Taliban.

“My ambition is to learn more technical skills through specialised mine action training as well as enhancing language skills. I am also interested in completing a master’s in sociology or archaeology. If female deminers are given office jobs in the mine action sector it would enhance job security,” she is reported as saying.