Security

Recent deaths of children killed by land mines raise concern about lasting dangers

By Emran

With the deaths of six children from unexploded ordnance and land mines in recent weeks, concerns are rising across Afghanistan about the lasting dangers of these remnants of war. [Omar/Salaam Times]

HERAT -- With the deaths of six children from unexploded ordnance and land mines in recent weeks, concerns are rising across Afghanistan about the lasting dangers of these remnants of war.

Four children -- three brothers and their cousin, a girl -- were killed and another child was wounded when a land mine exploded on February 21 in a residential area of Herat city.

The children were between three and 12 years old.

They had gone out to collect garbage and accidentally brought a mine home with them, which exploded inside their house while one of them was cleaning its surface.

Muhammad Asif, 8, receives treatment at Herat Regional Hospital on February 23 two days after he lost one of his legs in a land mine blast at his house. [Omar/Salaam Times]

Muhammad Asif, 8, receives treatment at Herat Regional Hospital on February 23 two days after he lost one of his legs in a land mine blast at his house. [Omar/Salaam Times]

Just days later, on February 27, two children were killed and two others wounded when a mortar exploded in Khanabad district, Kunduz province.

The explosion happened when the children were playing with the device.

Nayeb Qaderi, the father of the three deceased boys in Herat city, said if the government had cleared residential areas of unexploded ordnance and land mines, his sons would still be alive.

"I am a labourer, and I raised my children with love and hardship," he said. "I used to work for 50 AFN ($0.55) a day and could make a living for my children. Now, I've lost my three sons in an instant because of the government's failure."

"When they took my sons' bodies to the hospital, I did not have 20 AFN [$0.22] to hire a taxi and bring them home," he said. "People at the hospital collected the money, and only then was I able to bring their bodies home."

Mariam, an aunt of the four children killed in Herat, emphasised that the government should have cleared the explosive remnants of war.

"The authorities did not offer any help even after the incident," she said. "We had to rush the children's bodies to the hospital on a three-wheeler. By the time we reached the hospital, only one was still alive."

"My children had gone out to collect garbage, and brought the land mine with them," said Nazanin, the mother of the three deceased boys. "We did not know that it was an explosive device and could detonate."

"In order to fight poverty and overcome economic challenges, my children were collecting plastic containers and selling to make a living, but I lost three of them," she added.

Lasting danger of land mines

More than 50 square km of land in Afghanistan's western region, including 15 square km in Herat province, are contaminated with mines and explosive ordnance, according to local de-mining agencies in the area.

On average, between 8 and 10 civilians are killed every month in the region in explosions caused by unexploded land mines, said Abdul Jalil Sadeq, a co-ordinator at a mine-clearing agency in the western region.

"Land mine clearance operations have recently been suspended, and this has increased the imminent risk of unexploded ammunition," he said. "A number of donor countries have pledged to provide financing support. Once funding becomes available, we shall resume the mine clearance operations."

"In some residential areas, the risk imposed by land mines and other unexploded devices is extremely high. It threatens the lives of local residents, especially children who are unaware of the damaging impact of these devices," he said.

Afghanistan has consistently been ranked as one of the countries that have been most impacted by land mines and unexploded ordnance because of the prolonged conflict, which lasted nearly four decades.

Excessive use of roadside mines during the war in the past 20 years has made most roads dangerous.

Uncovering and dismantling all these land mines and unexploded ordnance are not an easy task and will take several years, analysts say.

"The mine clearance operations require resources and professional personnel, which unfortunately do not exist at the present time," said Mohammad Naim Ghayur, a military analyst in Herat city. "Given the circumstances, it is not easy to mobilise the necessary capacity and resources."

International support needed

"Clearing Afghanistan's territory of land mines and unexploded ordnance will not be possible unless the international community stands alongside Afghans and provides adequate support," he said.

If mines pose this much risk for civilians in the centre of Herat city, the situation in remote districts and villages could be far more dangerous, said Sayed Ashraf Sadaat, a civil society activist in Herat.

"Mines have been planted everywhere over the past 20 years, and most of these unexploded mines are still buried underground," he said. "Anyone who steps on these mines will be killed."

"Land mines and unexploded ammunition are real threats that need to be dismantled under a robust and co-ordinated programme," Sadaat added. "If the authorities continue to ignore the potential risks, the lives of many innocent Afghans will be in danger."

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Afghanistan is now relatively safe. People are a bit confident. Tourist trips to Afghanistan have also increased. Therefore, the responsible authorities and the demining organizations must take action and remove this burden of grief so that other people do not get affected by it. Afghans have seen a lot of unrest in the last forty years. They should no more get involved in wars. They have the right to live and get an education and higher education, build their homeland, tourists come to their country for sightseeing, not fighting. Afghans are not bad people, but unfortunately, they have been forced into war. It is enough that no more bombs explode on Afghan soil. There is no gunfire. People shouldn't be bombed under ever-changing pretexts. The right to life is not taken away from them. We also hope that demining organizations and officials will pay attention so that more innocent people do not fall prey to these unexploded mines.

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The world should not forget Afghanistan because of the Ukraine war. The international community must continue providing political, economic, and other assistance to Afghanistan in these difficult times. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the international community and the United States have forgotten Afghanistan. Afghans need not be left alone in these difficult times to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. Afghans are in a terrible situation now. The United States Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said today that the country has long had a shortage of trained health professionals. According to the agency, in 2018, every 10,000 people had 23 doctors and nurses, which could meet the needs of only 4.6 percent of the population. But with the collapse of the previous government, the lack of pay for health workers and a lack of confidence in the security situation may have contributed to the increase in this number. Not only is this a problem in Afghanistan's health sector, but there are numerous problems in education, economy, security, and every other sector that can be solved with the support of the international community.

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The world is wealthy enough to have money and weapons for fighting, but in the meantime, it is so poor that it cannot control worldwide poverty. Jawad Zadran

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