MAG has launched an innovative project with Facebook and the U.S. government to help people in northern Iraq learn how to stay safe from the landmines and unexploded bombs left behind after years of war.
The initiative uses Facebook's advertising tools to deliver simple graphics to at-risk groups describing how to recognize dangers, how to stay safe if an explosive device is discovered, and how to alert authorities to the problem.
The pilot project, which will run through November 2019, will target users living in Ninewa, Northern Iraq, an area home to 2.5 million people.
Ninewa was heavily affected by the conflict between the Islamic State (ISIS) and Iraqi government forces. More than three years of conflict had a devastating impact on the area: nearly 150,000 square yards of the region are believed to be contaminated with improvised landmines and other explosive devices. Many landmines manufactured by ISIS are sensitive enough to be triggered by a child but powerful enough to disable a tank.
The initiative aims to reach at least 85 percent of Facebook users in Ninewa—an estimated 1.4 million people—and will be supported by MAG teams working on the ground. A dedicated website (www.staysafefrommines.com) also contains essential information on how to stay safe in three languages. The messages have already reached over 800,000 people in the region since the initiative launched in September.
Since 2016, MAG has removed more than 17,000 explosive items from Ninewa—many found in and around homes, schools, and health facilities. MAG teams have given risk education sessions to more than 175,000 people, teaching them how to recognize, avoid, and report explosives. These sessions are typically delivered in person by MAG staff. However, with tens of thousands of families continuing to return home after the fall of ISIS, there has been a need to develop a way to provide lifesaving education to larger audiences as quickly as possible.
This need was the foundation of the collaboration between MAG, the U.S. government and Facebook.
Portia Stratton, Country Director for MAG in Iraq, said: “Almost half of landmine victims are children, so it’s important as many people as possible learn how to keep their families safe until we can clear the danger. Our staff usually give lessons in-person, but that means the reach is limited and costly. Using Facebook to get to hundreds of thousands of at-risk people via their phones could have a real impact in helping reduce the casualties from these devastating devices.”
A spokesperson for Facebook said: “Facebook is honored to play a part in helping reduce landmine casualties in Iraq. With so many now using Facebook around the world, ads are another way to share urgent information with communities who might be at risk. We hope that these messages in Iraq could save a life.”
“As part of our constant search for new and innovative ways to keep people safe from explosive hazards left by ISIS in Iraq, the United States Department of State is proud to partner with MAG and Facebook to deliver targeted risk education to Iraqis living in areas most heavily impacted by improvised explosive devices, landmines, and other explosive hazards."
Sol BlackProgram Manager for Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen Emergency Response at the U.S. State Department
Sol Black, Program Manager for Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen Emergency Response at the U.S. Department of State said: “As part of our constant search for new and innovative ways to keep people safe from explosive hazards left by ISIS in Iraq, the United States Department of State is proud to partner with MAG and Facebook to deliver targeted risk education to Iraqis living in areas most heavily impacted by improvised explosive devices, landmines, and other explosive hazards left by ISIS. By leveraging an existing communications platform already used by the majority of Iraqis, this Department of State-facilitated initiative uses an innovative approach to deliver lifesaving information to Iraqis most likely to encounter dangerous explosive hazards.”
MAG is a global landmine clearance charity that has helped over 18 million people in 68 countries rebuild their lives and livelihoods after war. We have worked in Iraq since 1992 to make land safe for populations affected by decades of conflict.