Libya one year on: The battle against cluster bombs, landmines and UXO
A year after the uprising, MAG has celebrated a lifesaving milestone in the battle to safeguard civilians against the dangers of cluster bombs, landmines and unexploded ordnance continues: 100,000 dangerous items cleared and destroyed.
Friday 17 February marks the one-year anniversary of the 'Day of Revolt' in Libya, the symbolic beginning of the rebellion against Gaddafi.
High levels of abandoned and unexploded ordnance (UXO) still litter towns and roads where fighting took place and without adequate understanding of the dangers many people, especially children and internally displaced persons, remain at risk of serious harm.
“Children are particularly attracted to 23mm bullets as they are in abundance and easy to pick up,” said Alexandra Arango, who works as a Community Liaison Manager for MAG.
“Most children play with them for a while until they decide to throw rocks at them or tap them onto a surface and they explode, injuring their hand and causing shrapnel injuries on their chest or face.”
MAG deployed to Libya in April 2011 to carry out initial assessments, before establishing operations in May to conduct Battle Area Clearance and Explosive Ordnance Disposal around the coastal area of Ajdabiya, Brega and Misrata.
Key to MAG’s work has also been the development of Physical Security and Stockpile Management (PSSM) operations to deal with the aftermath of the NATO bombardment of Ammunition Supply Points. PSSM makes safe the leftover weapons and munitions, preventing them falling into the wrong hands.
In June, MAG’s Marketing Manager and Photographer, Sean Sutton, visited Libya to document the situation on the ground. While there he saw makeshift ‘museums’ displaying large ranges of munitions – many of which were still fused – laid out in the streets, attracting hundreds of visitors a day.
At the time, Sean explained: “On top of this immediate threat comes the problem that children seeing these items are also quite likely to find them in playgrounds. How are they going to react when they see a yellow striped submunition just like the one they saw in the ‘museum’? The likelihood is that they’ll pick it up.”
Throughout July, MAG carried out an assessment in the Nafusa Mountains and established a need both for clearance and urgent Risk Education.
Working with UNHCR, MAG provided Risk Education to refugees in Tunisia ensuring that, as they returned to their homes in the west of the country (predominantly in the Nafusa Mountains), they were aware of the risks represented by UXO and were able to help reduce the risk to themselves and their families.
MAG also established Community Focal Points (CFPs) – made up of a representative range of men, women and young people – in the most contaminated areas in and around Zintan. The CFPs deliver targeted Risk Education, gathering information for on dangerous areas, which assists clearance operations, ensuring that MAG focuses resources in the areas where community need is greatest.
More than 48,000 people have so far benefited directly or indirectly from MAG’s Risk Education work.
By late August, MAG had carried out an assessment in Brega (south-west of Benghazi), including a route assessment of the access road. A number of essential clearance activities were identified, in particular around warehouses that had been used for storage of munitions and off the verges of the main road, where people are starting to forage for vehicle spare parts.
Since mid-November, operations have expanded with seven teams deploying from Misrata and Ajdabiya to Ras Lanuf, Sirte and Bani Walid. MAG has already conducted further assessments in Sirte and how has two teams carrying out clearance operations in the west of the country and the Nafusa Mountains in support of the Risk Education project.
After Alexandra arrived in the programme, she described the contamination and UXO threat as severe. “I have worked in DR Congo and Gaza and I would say the contamination in Sirte is the worst I have ever seen,” she said.
“After Sirte, Brega and Ras Lanuf have high levels of contamination as well. In Misrata, the level of contamination is much lower, but we have found cluster bomblets.”
Working to reduce the physical threat to local populations and humanitarian aid workers in Libya, MAG teams have destroyed more than 100,000 remnants of conflict, including anti-personnel landmines, anti-tank mines, cluster submunitions, UXO items and Small Arms Ammunition.
They have recorded 8,275 direct beneficiaries from clearance, and more than 350,000 indirect beneficiaries, in Misrata, Ajdabiya, Brega and Benghazi.
MAG has cleared nine schools in and around Ajdabiya and Brega, and seven in Misrata, as well as houses, roads and other public areas.
Twelve months after the beginning of the uprising, and four months after the conflict officially ended, there is still much to do before Libya becomes safe enough for communities to develop and thrive socially and economically.
Until then, MAG’s clearance and Risk Education operations will continue to work towards creating a platform for peace and stability, supporting wider humanitarian and post-conflict reconstruction efforts.
|Our thanks to the following donors to MAG’s Libya operations: AECID (Spanish Government); Canadian Department for Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT); The Kirby Laing Foundation; UK Department for International Development / UKaid; UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency); UNOPS; US Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.|
First Photo: Lachin Hasanova/MAG. Second Photo: Sean Sutton/MAG.
14 February 2012