SOMALIA: Clearance and Safety Messages Save Lives
“I am so happy today and I will stop worrying about this danger to children and also other villagers” - Hawo Khalif, whose house in Riigoomane had been 25 metres from a stockpile of 105 white phosphorous mortars
Riigoomane is a small rural community situated 40 kilometres north west of Galcaio close to the Ethiopian border within Puntland State of Somalia.
The majority of people living in Riigoomane depend on the land for their survival, raising livestock including goats, sheep and camels which they then trade or slaughter in order to eke out an existence.
MAG first visited Riigoomane earlier this year, to carry out a field assessment in conjunction with the Puntland Mine Action Centre (PMAC). The area is known to have experienced many years of armed conflict, and both MAG and PMAC were aiming to establish how assistance could best be provided to the community.
After sitting with community elders it became clear that the area was contaminated with various forms of Explosive Remnants of War (ERW). The effects of discarded ERW were all too clear to Farah Nur, a 12-year-old boy who lost four fingers when playing with a fuse he found lying under a bush. The next day PMAC dispatched the Puntland Police Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team to the site to conduct Mine Risk Education (MRE).
MRE was delivered in Riigoomane to groups of men, women and children in order to mitigate against any immediate risky behaviour.
During this vital dialogue between the community and the team, Istahil Ahmed, a woman living in the centre of the village reported that there were munitions buried at the rear of her home.
She was worried for her children who played on this open ground and wanted to extend her home but was scared to dig foundations. The EOD team recorded this suspected buried stockpile as a Dangerous Area and then reported it back to PMAC.
MAG and PMAC returned to Riigoomane in July, fully equipped to excavate the area which was surrounded on three sides by houses. The team quickly got to work in the blistering heat, carefully excavating the soil in search of the buried munitions.
Community members were naturally inquisitive, asking many questions about the police EOD team and the technical support provided by MAG.
Hawo Khalif, whose house was located 25 metres from the excavation site commented: “I am so happy today and I will stop worrying about this danger to children and also other villagers.”
After 35 minutes of shovel work the team unearthed the items of ERW, and were surprised to find a sizeable stockpile of 105 white phosphorous mortars. White phosphorous is a uniquely dangerous munition as once detonated and exposed to air its content burns intensely and can only be extinguished when starved of oxygen.
In addition to this, one large anti tank mine was also discovered in the pit. MAG’s technical experts decided that all munitions, lthough corroded, were in a safe state to transport to the PMAC Controlled Demolition Site in Garowe.
When viewing the munitions being loaded to be removed from the community, Khadijo Jama a 70-year-old woman grabbed the sleeve of MAG’s interpreter and commented: “MAG was sent by God to us and thank Allah for their operation. MAG are the only people which I can see have helped us.”
Following this, the team, PMAC and MAG packed up, said their farewells to the people of Riigoomane and departed back to base. The munitions were destroyed by controlled demolition two days later and their potential danger was removed for good.
|Photos by MAG Puntland|