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STORY: ‘Increasing awareness about explosive hazards

can save many lives,’ says UN demining agency

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‘Increasing awareness about explosive hazards can save many lives,’ says UN
demining agency

Baidoa – Mukhtar Abdi was tending to his family’s goats in the southwestern Somali
city of Baidoa one day when a shiny, circle-shaped metallic object caught the nine-
year-old boy’s attention. “It seemed beautiful to me. I removed it from under a
thorn tree and started playing with it. Unfortunately, when I banged it against that
tree, it exploded,” he recounts.
Mr. Abdi survived, but he sustained severe injuries in his chest and a fractured right
hand. No functioning hospital existed in Baidoa in the early 1990s, and he could only
receive medical treatment at a local pharmacy. “I believe that the probability of
fixing the fracture of my hand was very high at that time, but due to a lack of proper
medication and personnel, my hand was amputated,” he says.
Many years of armed conflicts in Somalia have bequeathed a lethal legacy of
explosive devices, including landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) which,
according to the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), affect marginalized communities
in conflict-affected areas and along border regions. The threat of improvised
explosive devices (IEDs) in the country remains an ever-present source of danger.
Almost 3,000 civilians have been killed or injured in IED incidents in Somalia over the
last three years. Of these, 2017 was the deadliest, in large part due to an IED attack
on 14 October in Mogadishu which killed more than 500 people and injured over
300. Children accounted for three-quarters of all casualties caused by unexploded
ordnance last year.
The threat posed by explosive hazards is a grim fact of life for many Somalis, causing
the tragic loss of lives and livelihoods and affecting the physical and emotional well-
being of people in many parts of the country.

As the world prepares to observe International Mine Awareness Day on 4 April,

UNMAS is highlighting how mine action operations provide a tangible form of
protection, reducing the explosive threats faced by affected communities, as well as
vulnerable populations such as internally displaced persons and refugees.
Abshir Mahdi Isakh is an UNMAS specialist on unexploded ordinance who educates
Baidoa residents about the risks of explosive devices and carries out demining
operations to help keep communities safe. “Last month, a farmer in Baidoa was
trying to expand his farm. As he was trying to remove an old fence, he found a
serious-looking ERW. He reported it to our office, so we went to the farm and
removed it. He can now continue his work,” he says.
According to UNMAS data, in 2017 alone more than 70 communities in Somalia
benefitted from the clearance of explosive remnants of war in over 450 locations.
Similar work is being carried out currently in more than 40 districts nationwide to rid
communities of explosive hazards.
Abdinuur Moalim Abshir, a carpenter and builder by trade, lives in one of the
communities which have benefitted from UNMAS activities in Baidoa and environs.
“We had a big problem before demining began. We used to see many people and
animals dying from explosive remnants of war. We could not even build new houses
because when we would start to dig the foundations, we would come across
landmines that were buried there a long time ago, and this would impede building
further,” he says.
Casualties from ERW have decreased, says Mr. Abshir, and he can now gather the
necessary building materials for his line of work without constantly worrying about
explosive hazards. “If we happen to suspect that remnants of explosive materials can
be found, we can easily report it to the UNMAS office in Baidoa,” he notes.
Mr. Isakh, the UNMAS technician, also underlines the benefits of knowing the risks
associated with landmines and other explosive hazards, and the action that can be
taken to mitigate them. “Increasing awareness regarding threats of explosive
remnants of war creates room for saving many lives. Nothing is more valuable than
knowledge. Awareness is the best solution for this issue,” he concludes.