Demonstrating Afghanistan, one prudent step at a time
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Nad-e-Ali (Afghanistan) (AFP) – Weeks after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, families who fled fighting in a village in the south returned home to discover something strange: The cricket ground had been surrounded by painted boulders. Red and white.
It turned out that white meant it was safe for children to play. But red pointed to buried landmines and other munitions – the explosive remnants of war that have killed or maimed tens of thousands of Afghans over the past four decades.
The village of Nad-e-Ali in Helmand province became a front line in the final days of the war between the Taliban and West-backed government forces in Kabul.
It was under siege for two months until the Islamists took control of the country in mid-August.
When its residents returned in September, they found the village school riddled with gunfire, its roof black with smoke, and the children’s swings reduced to a simple metal frame.
They also found that the area had been “completely mined” during the fighting, according to Juma Khan, the local coordinator of HALO Trust, the main demining NGO operating in Afghanistan.
Newly laid mines and other traps were buried under building doors and beside windows.
“The rooms inside had mines and there were mines on the main street,” Khan told AFP during a visit to Nad-e-Ali this month.
About 41,000 Afghan civilians have been killed or injured by landmines and unexploded ordnance since 1988, according to the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS).
More than two-thirds of the victims were children, many of whom spotted the deadly devices while playing and picked them up.
The Hazardous Area Life-Support Organization (HALO) trust was founded in 1988 specifically to combat ammunition left behind during the Soviet occupation of the country.
However, the country was so severely contaminated that demining work never ceased, even after the signing of an international treaty banning the use of landmines in 1997, with Afghanistan ratifying the convention in 2002.
Over 30 years later, in the fighting that led to the Taliban’s return to power, mines and improvised explosive devices were once again planted and abandoned, this time by the Islamists and their now ousted opponents.
“Scream and cry”
HALO – one of Princess Diana’s favorite charities – struck a deal with the new Taliban authorities in September to get its more than 2,500 Afghan employees back to work.
In Nad-e-Ali, Taliban fighters are now guiding HALO deminers to find the deadly traps they themselves have set.
Because they live in the village and don’t want to be blamed for the deaths of civilians, the Taliban fighters “used to wipe them out with their own hands, but we arrested them to avoid further detonation.” , Khan said.
But even though demining efforts persist, explosions have already claimed lives among the villagers.
Two months ago, the wife of a village teacher lost both of her legs when an explosive device exploded when she opened the door to her house.
“This incident was very painful. I saw it with my own eyes,” said teacher Bismillah.
“I saw my kids screaming and crying … I’m alone and the stress is too much, too much.”
Since then, the village and its school have been classified as a “high priority” demining area.
‘I am scared’
It was HALO who installed the red and white rocks to mark out safe corridors for their 10 teams of eight deminers as they carefully inspect the ground using metal detectors.
“When it detects metal or a battery or whatever it sounds an alarm. Then we mark the area and start digging very carefully,” supervisor Bahramudin Ahmadi said.
“As soon as we have a visual of the mine, we inform the demining team and we inform the local security, as they have to give permission to clean the area and after that we detonate it.”
In the past three months, 102 explosive devices have been defused in the area, including 25 in the village itself, but that would represent only a fraction of what remains buried in the ground and hidden inside some. houses.
For HALO, it is a race against time in post-war Afghanistan to “decontaminate” one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.
The priority is to protect children. In Nad-e-Ali, HALO workers have been candid about the dangers.
“Please understand that if you lose a leg you know how much it will cost your parents, and if you die how much grief,” Nazifullah, head of the HALO program, told a group of children sitting in them. legs crossed on the ground.
“What do you do if you see this?” He asks them, pointing to the image of a landmine.
“I will immediately tell my family, my brother or my imam at the mosque,” said eight-year-old Nazia.
“I’m scared, but I know when I see white rocks we can play and when it’s red we can’t play.”
© 2021 AFP