IRAQ: Mines removed from irrigation system site near Halabja
These mines were found in the irrigation gulley.
MAG cleared 300m2 of land and removed 11 anti-personnel landmines so that an irrigation project in a Sulimaniyah community devastated by conflict could continue.
In May, a team from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) were working in the mountains near Halabja, Sulimaniyah to restore a traditional irrigation system for a nearby village when they discovered several landmines scattered around the site.
The irrigation system, known as a karez, was being rebuilt to provide the people of Hawar, a remote community, with a sustainable source of water for crops and for drinking.
Close to the Iranian border, and high in the mountains, this karez is a 40-minute steep hike on foot from the nearest road.
During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s the area was strategically important to the military, which had dozens of positions there.
This site was identified by IOM as a project that would help the local community in Hawar – devastated decades of violence and oppression – to improve its development and build itself a more prosperous future.
But, as MAG knows from nearly 20 years of working in the region, in northern Iraq where there are former military positions there are almost always landmines.
When the landmines were discovered, the project had to stop. It was not safe to carry on the excavating.
Lucie Dupertuis, Project Officer for IOM’s Iraq Mission, thought that because of the site was so remote that the project could be doomed.
“When we discovered the mines, I thought it would take weeks and weeks to clear them and that we would have to cancel this project,” she said.
Finding out about the mines from IOM, MAG sent two members of technical staff to the remote mountain to assess the area and the level of contamination.
They found the gulley perfect territory for mines to “migrate” during heavy rainfall – shifting where they were laid and often travelling some distance down to a new resting place – perhaps in one of the terraced orchards of fig and walnut trees being cultivated further down the mountain.
A local man working for IOM also told MAG’s mine clearance experts that one of his relatives had lost his leg by triggering a mine close to the area where the karez was being built.
When they got there they saw four anti-personnel blast mines that had already been collected and disarmed by one of the villagers. MAG’s team then found six more of the mines on the surface of the gulley, indicating they’d been washed downstream from where they were originally buried.
“I was sure there were more mines buried sub-surface, and so we had no choice but to advise IOM to halt the project for their own safety."“It is highly likely that this process of mines being washed down the mountain would have happened almost every year since they were first laid some 30 years or so ago,” said Mark Thompson, MAG’s Technical Operations Manager in Iraq.
A MAG Iraq Community Liaison (CL) team arranged a Mine Risk Education session for 20 villagers, labourers and IOM staff.
During the session one of the villagers told MAG’s CL staff that although they know it’s dangerous, some people walk past the warning signs into a minefield to pick fruit from an orchard every year during harvest. Another of the villagers told MAG she had found a mine in her garden once and, in order to get it away from her children, she’d picked it up and thrown it.
This incredibly risky type of behaviour is what MAG warns against during MRE sessions, teaching
This traditional irrigation system will serve the people of Hawar once it is fully restored. But when the landmines were discovered, the project had to stop. [Photos by MAG Iraq]
people just how dangerous it is and informing them how to contact MAG’s response team when they find potentially deadly items.
Despite the difficulty of the terrain and the minefield’s remote location, a MAG team cleared 300m2 and safely removed 11 anti-personnel landmines, which were later destroyed.
The result of this partnership was that, only nine days later, IOM were able to restart the project to build the karez, which in turn will nourish the nearby village, allowing people to grow crops in safer areas that were previously too dry and increase this year’s harvest.
“I just would like to tell you how impressed I have been by the response of MAG to our request for help,” said Lucie from IOM.
“MAG assessed and cleared the site in a really short time, and provided our team and beneficiaries with MRE training. It was so fast and professional. Really impressive! Now we can continue our project safely and the villagers are protected from mines, at least in that area. Thank you so much for your great work,” she added.
Our thanks to the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, US Department of State for funding this work.
23 June 2011