Albanians stranded by landmines to restart lives

16 Feb 2011

"I lost my leg during the Kosovo
conflict," said mine survivor Izet
Ademaj."After nine months I was
given my first prosthesis, now I
am able to walk freely and
I'm really very happy."
(Photo: UNDP)

Tirana - Thousands of villagers in one of the poorest regions of Albania are to reclaim their livelihoods after a partnership between government agencies and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) successfully cleared more than 12,000 anti-personnel mines from 16 million square metres of land.

Some 25,000 people in three districts of northeast Albania, along the mountainous border with Kosovo, will be able to return to agriculture and farming activities free from the threat of hidden explosive devices which have injured 238 people and killed 34 since 1999, the year of the 78-day conflict over Kosovo.

With 12,452 anti-personnel mines, 152 anti-tank mines and 4,965 pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) dropped or planted on land around Kukes, Has and Tropoja, local communities had sought work across the border in Kosovo to replace incomes lost from sheep grazing, small-scale farming, firewood collection.

“Now this area is free,” said Rama Basha, representative of Shishtavec Commune in Kukes, one of the most heavily mined areas along the border. “The community is hard-working and eager to use their land and cultivate the area. This is the priority.”

The 7-year minefield clearance effort was carried out by UNDP-supported teams from the national Albanian Mine Action Committee and the Albanian Mine Action Executive.

UNDP held workshops for vulnerable communities, providing education on avoiding the risks of buried or unexploded weapons. As a result, the number of mine accidents decreased from 154 in 1999 to zero by 2006.

UNDP also offered landmine survivors help in gaining medical care, rehabilitation and access to social services and prosthetics. It helped survivors find new livelihoods, for example providing training in animal husbandry.

“The community in Albania can now make use of their land and feel safe,” said Petrit Karabina, Chair of the Albanian Mine Action Committee and Deputy Minister of Defense, whose government requested efforts to clear the minefields in 2003.