Afghan de-mining funds drying up

2013-04-04 15:02
Afghan de-miners walk after a day's work in Sangaw village, on the outskirts of Kabul. (Shah Marai, AFP)

Afghan de-miners walk after a day's work in Sangaw village, on the outskirts of Kabul. (Shah Marai, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Sangaw - Since Haji Abdul Samad lost his leg in a minefield more than 20 years ago, he has unearthed at least 1 000 explosives and become one of Afghanistan's most experienced de-miners.

"After my accident, I told myself that I had to do work to save lives. I had to clean the rivers, hills, villages," Samad, who was fighting against the Soviets when he stepped on a mine in 1989, said.

"But I'm not afraid of mines," he added, at a site being cleared outside the capital Kabul, ahead of the UN International Day for Mine Awareness on Thursday.

"I will continue to work as long as even just one remains in the country," he vowed.

Samad, a father of eight children originally from the southern city of Kandahar, is part of the huge de-mining effort taking place in Afghanistan, which is dotted with minefields after decades of conflict.

Since 1989, when the Soviets left, more than 4 000 people have been killed and 17 000 injured by mines, not including devices laid in the current conflict, according to an estimate by the UN's Mine Action Co-ordination Centre of Afghanistan (MACCA).

Funding drying up

Afghanistan remains one of the most heavily mined countries in the world and an average of 42 civilians - most of them boys under 18 - are killed or injured each month by mines and other leftover war explosives.

But as the Nato-led combat mission ends next year and international attention towards Afghanistan fades, donor funding for mine clearing is already drying up despite the huge amount of work still to be done.

"We are doing our best. We are appealing for more help," said Mohammad Sediq Rashid, the head of MACCA, which is $25m short of its $84m annual fundraising budget.

"Donors are aware of the situation. Now it is up to them to respond," he said, describing the countless remaining mines as a threat to the future development of the country.

"If the programme is continued the problem can be addressed, but now it's not solved. We have lost 1 000 de-miners because of very unstable funding."

De-mining of some description continued even through the civil war and the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, and huge progress has been made in recent years since the Islamic extremists were ousted by a US-led invasion.

Rock landscape

Sangaw hill, where Haji Abdul Samad works for the Danish Demining Group (DDG), was a forward position for Soviet soldiers, who protected themselves with several belts of meticulously hidden mines.

After the Soviets retreated, the Taliban took control of the strategic position, located halfway between Kabul and Bagram airbase, and laid their own explosives in the rough, rocky landscape.

Over the last 30 years at least 13 people have died and 22 have been injured by mines on Sangaw hill alone, the latest casualty losing a leg while herding cattle six months ago.

Since last October, except for a break in the harshest weeks of winter, more than 40 DDG de-miners have been at work to make the slopes of Sangaw safe for farmers and livestock.

"So far, we found more than 600 mines and 1 000 UXO [unexploded ordnance]," said Megan Latimer, DDG Technical Advisor.

"There are a lot of items for a small area, but we hope to finish this section within three weeks."

No end in sight

The site, silent except for the beep of metal detectors, is now dotted with red and white stones indicating safe places to walk as teams of de-miners in helmets and blue armoured vests clear further ground.

A line of yellow painted stones higher up the mountain mark where explosives have been found, while nearby a de-miner scrapes the ground and finds another deadly device during a visit by AFP.

"This is very dangerous work," said Samad, in his late 50s. He says he knows of 20 to 30 de-miners killed or injured while on the job.

Samad, whose weather-beaten face reveals his years working outdoors, refuses to contemplate retirement and there appears to be no end in sight for the mammoth task.

About 1.2 million mines and 16 million pieces of unexploded ordnance have been destroyed since 1989, and 21 000 battlefields have been cleared, but at least 4 900 "risk areas" remain, according to MACCA.

Major achievement

As funding has fallen, DDG has had to release 450 local employees, mostly de-miners, over the last year.

Clearing mines, an industry than employs 12 000 people nationwide, is one of the major achievements of the international effort in Afghanistan since 2001.

And de-mining groups are desperate to keep pushing ahead with their work.

"When you start something, you must finish it," said Rashid.

Read more on:    un  |  nato  |  afghanistan

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


How to open a beer bottle without an opener

Do the right thing and never be thirsty again…


You won't want to miss...

WATCH: Man films himself going down water slide upside down as things go very wrong…
WATCH: Conor McGregor: Notorious the trailer
Best date night restaurants in South Africa
WATCH: Ryan Reynolds offers fans a free tattoo in new Deadpool 2 teaser
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.