UNDP helps mine victims in Iraqi Kurdistan become independent

03 Dec 2009

Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan – Every year an unknown number of Iraqis gets killed or maimed due to landmines and unexploded remnants of war, as their country is among the most contaminated with unexploded ordnance. One of the victims is Yahya Muhammed Taha, who stepped on a landmine and lost his left leg at the age of 23, seven years ago.

“I want to work and depend on myself to improve the life of my children and my family. I don't want my children to feel that their father is a disabled man and can’t provide for them as other fathers,” Mr. Taha noted.

Iraq is contaminated by some 20 million landmines, many sown in the areas bordering Iran - a legacy of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. In addition, across Iraq there are millions of unexploded cluster munitions from the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 conflict.

In Iraqi Kurdistan Region alone, 3,512 minefields have been registered, covering an area of 788 square kilometers. To date, only a sixth of the mine-sown area has been cleared.

During the time of the accident, Mr. Taha was only in tenth grade. Despite losing a leg Mr. Taha continued with his studies, graduating from the College of Arts in Erbil.

According to government figures, land-mines and explosive remnants of war claimed 14,000 victims in Iraq between 1991 and 2007. In the three northern Kurdish governorates, the government estimates the total number of victims (both injuries and deaths) between 1991 and 2008 to be 8,174.

“I need to be listened to and assisted by local authorities. They need to know that there are persons with disabilities who can work and become independent. Since the time of the accident until now, neither governmental foundations nor other organizations have assisted me, except for the Diana Orthopedic, Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Center,” Mr. Taha pointed out.

In order to provide specialized care and services for mine victims in northern Iraq UNDP, with funding from Japan and Australia, has since 2007 supported a rehabilitation center in each of the three Kurdish governorates. These are the Kurdistan Organization for Rehabilitation of the Disabled (KORD) in Sulaimaniyah, Diana Orthopedic, Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Center (DPLC) in Erbil, and Prosthetic Limbs Center (PLCD) in Dahuk.

Through these UNDP has contributed to the provision of over 10,000 physiotherapy sessions, 4,500 mobility aids and nearly 4,800 ortho-prosthetic devices to mine victims. In addition the centers provide vocational training and grants to set up small businesses, as well as house improvements enabling mine victims to live at home despite disabilities. The project is implemented in partnership with the World Health Organization.

After graduating from college last year, Mr. Taha returned home, but due to his disability he found no job. This fall, he began attending a six-month vocational training course in computer programming at the Diana Orthopedic, Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Center.

“Computer programming was one of my subjects in college, but I didn’t benefit from it as much as I have so far from this training course in three months, learning commercial computer skills,” Mr. Taha noted.

After completing the six-month course, Mr. Taha becomes eligible for a small grant from the center to partly finance the establishment of his own small computer store. The rest of the funding he has to secure himself.

“We want to work and earn our own living and do not want to receive assistance from anybody as charity. I personally don't like people to pity me because I am a disabled person. When I open my shop, I can work there and do my best to be successful and fully independent,” he said while sitting in front of the center’s modern computers.