Moving ahead to improve lives of Iraqis affected by landmines

05 Apr 2011

Baghdad – To commemorate Global Mine Action Day, the Iraqi Ministry of Environment and the United Nations in Iraq held today a press conference on mine action in Iraq at the UNAMI Headquarters in Baghdad. Representatives of national, regional and international media outlets in Iraq listened and interacted with the Deputy Minister of Environment, Dr Kamal Latif,  the Head of Humanitarian and Development Office at UNAMI, Mr. Daniel Augstburger, and Major General Hadi Athab, Director of Military Engineering at the Ministry of Defence, who briefed them on Iraq’s continued commitment to building awareness on the dangers of landmines and clearing the country from explosive remnants of war, while supporting the victims who have been affected by them.

“Contaminated sites cover 1,730 square kilometres in Iraq and affect around 1.6 million people in over 1,600 communities in Iraq. Landmines and explosive remnants of war are a major threat to the people of Iraq’s right to life, liberty and security, and pose a particular threat to the country’s economic development”, said Ms. Christine McNab, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq.  “The United Nations is committed to working with the Government and our partners in Iraq to address these extraordinary challenges, and support the Iraqi people in their path to a better future”, Ms. McNab added.

“With a quarter of the world’s mines in our country, we have seen how severely it affects the economic, political and social development of Iraq”, said Deputy Minister, Dr. Latif while announcing at the press conference the implementation of a national development strategy this year.   Dr. Latif briefed the media on the Government’s efforts that contributed to 71 projects over the last few years.  Raising concerns over the difficulty in clearing contaminated land, “there are no maps to indicate where the landmines are and with the random nature of distribution, it greatly slows down progress”, he added.

Major General Athab provided the media with an overview of the activities carried out by the Ministry of Defence in this field, especially the landmine training school, located outside Baghdad, which trains the civilians and the military to work together to rid the country from this scourge.

With an estimated 20 million landmines under ground, according to the United Nations Development Programme, Iraq is still one of the most contaminated countries in the world. In addition to the efforts being exerted to clear the country from landmines and make it safer, many projects are being implemented to improve the lives and the livelihoods of the victims of landmines in Iraq.  “Over the past three years, it has been possible for over 9,500 victims of landmine incidents to receive support from three orthopaedic rehabilitation centres in the north”, Mr. Augustburger, told the press, while adding, “these centres have provided more than 8,500 ortho-prosthetic devices, 17,000 physiotherapy services, 7,000 mobility aids, as well as rehabilitation and business training”.

Landmines and explosive remnants of war have a devastating impact on Iraq’s children with around 25 percent of all victims being children under the age of 14 years. UNICEF's Representative to Iraq, Mr. Sikander Khan said: “Iraq's 15 million children have the right to grow up in a safe environment that protects their lives and well-being. Without urgent action to clear Iraq of all landmines, the thousands of children currently living in areas contaminated with mines and unexploded ordinance across Iraq will continue to be at risk of being maimed or killed as well as having restricted access to education, health care and water and sanitation they need to survive and grow up to realise their full potential”.

Today’s event also included an exhibition of photographs by acclaimed landmine photographer Giovanni Diffidenti and well-known Iraqi photographer Jamal Penjweny. The exhibit illustrates the impact of landmines and explosive remnants of war on the people of Iraq. It also shows how, with support from the international community, the government and the people of Iraq are working to overcome the tremendous difficulties caused by unexploded devices.

Iraq joined the Ottawa Treaty in 2007, which requires the country to eradicate landmines and explosive remnants of war from their land, by 2018. A great deal of work and commitment is needed in order for Iraq to achieve this. Priority must be given to this issue to allow an increased number of projects to be implemented throughout the country, to enable Iraq to develop and become safe. Through the combined efforts and cooperation of the government of Iraq and Kurdistan, NGOs and civil society over the past few years, an opportunity for change started showing signs of progress in Iraq with renewed vigour and energy.

Contact Information

UNDP: James Howlett, Emaiil:  james.howlett@undp.org  Tel: +962 79 731 1156
UNICEF: Jaya Murthy, Tel: +962796926190, Email:  jmurthy@unicef.org and Salam Abdulmunem, Tel: +9647809126782, Email: sabulmunem@unicef.org