UNDP programme results in a mine-free Albania

18 Feb 2010

More than a decade after the 1999 Kosovo conflict left behind a trail of mines and unexploded ordinances along Albania’s northern border, the country has been declared officially mine-free thanks to a joint UNDP and Government demining programme that also provides assistance to mine victims.

“This area is no longer a place of sorrow, but a place of peace and harmony,” said Rama Basha, a representative of Shishtavec Commune in Kukes, a district in northern Albania where many of the mines lay buried. “Now this area is free.”

As a result of the programme, over 16 million square metres of land in northeastern Albania were cleared of mines and unexploded ordinances, which are weapons like bombs and bullets that did not explode when they were initially used and still pose a threat to anyone who might stumble onto them. Altogether, the programme led to the clearance of over 12,000 anti-personnel and 152 anti-tank mines while almost 5,000 unexploded ordnances were found and destroyed.  

“We would like to thank the de-miners for the work they have done,” said Rujmene Begiraj, from the village of Borja. “Now our children can play freely, we can make use of our land and graze our sheep without fear that they will be injured.”

Along with providing financial, technical and policy advisory support to government institutions charged with clearing the mines, UNDP also embarked on a mine risk education project in affected communities, resulting in the end of mine accidents within several years of the programme’s start.

To provide effective and ongoing support to the 238 people who were injured by the mines, UNDP established the National Prosthetic-Orthotic Centre in a regional hospital in northern Albania, staffed with two medical specialists, a physiotherapist, a neurologist and a prostheses repair technician. An additional 30 nurses from the affected communities were also trained with the skills required to support the rehabilitation needs of mine survivors.

Izet Ademaj lost a leg after stepping on a mine in 1999 as the Kosovo conflict raged on nearby. He worked as a policeman and was patrolling the border as refugees streamed into the country.

“After nine months, I was given my first prosthesis at the regional hospital in Kukes,” he said. “I am able to walk freely, to dance, to play football and I’m really very happy for this.”

Ademaj, along with other survivors, also benefitted from UNDP-supported vocational training for mine survivors and their family members. Over 80 families have established animal husbandry businesses after receiving technical assistance and microloans whole another 95 have completed vocational training courses.