Friday, April 11, 2014

Mine Action in Kachin State

Children helping to prepare a display at Mine Action Day
©UNICEF Myanmar/2014/Phyusin Ngwethaw
Kachin State, 4 April 2014 - Landmines and explosive remnants of war injure and kill people every day around the world. Harmful devices left behind from times of conflict or placed intentionally continue to cause harm to vulnerable populations, including women and children. They also deny access to land that could be used for agriculture and livelihoods, inhibit the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and endanger refugees and internally displaced persons. Unfortunately this is also the case in Myanmar.

In Kachin State, this situation is being faced by women, children and families every day. Displaced populations face the risk of being harmed by Mines/Explosive Remnants of War (ERWs) when they seek services or livelihood opportunities outside of their camp or when they try to return to their homes. Victims of landmines and explosive remnants of war confront life-long challenges and need immediate attention and long-term support.

On 4 April,  this year, Mine Action Day was led by UNICEF in Kachin State. The event was held in Maina RC Camp, just outside Waing Maw Town. It is one of the several camps supported by Karuna (KMSS Myitkyina), a local NGO. In this camp, 600 children live with their families in temporary shelters, and because of the on-going conflict they rely only on humanitarian aid for their survival. Some families are anxious to return to their villages, some fear for their future livelihood. The constant risk of harm from landmines and Explosive Remnant of Wars (ERWs) are a major threat they face every day and on the journey back to their homes.

With support from UNICEF as lead agency for Child Protection, the first ever coordination mechanism on Mine Risk Education has been established under the auspices of the State Ministry of Social Welfare for Kachin State. This MRE Working Group asserts the primary responsibility of State authorities to protect its population, and seeks to ensure effective collaboration on addressing MRE needs of the people across different sectors (i.e. Health, Education, Social Welfare Rehabilitation, Border Affairs), and promote respect of International Humanitarian Law by all parties to the conflict.
The MRE WG has just completed a rapid assessment in 30 locations in Kachin and Northern Shan States on knowledge, attitudes and practices in face of the threat of mines/ERWs. This rapid assessment will ensure that appropriate messages are tailored for different groups of the population (e.g. children vs adults, women vs men; displaced vs host population).

Mine Action Day is an important event providing education and awareness to population on the risks they face and on the rights they are entitled to.

Mine Action Day call for urgent mine risk education for vulnerable populations, capacity-building to eventually demine areas affected by conflict, and provision of life-saving victim assistance. The day also provided the opportunity to highlight and advocate for international commitment against landmines and the responsibility of armed groups and armed forces to stop the use of landmines in times of conflict. The event was a co-ordinated effort and involved  Local Authorities, International Organizations (UNICEF, UNHCR, ICRC, OCHA) and Non-Government Organisations including; Danish Church Aid (DCA), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Karuna Myanmar Social Services (KMSS Myitkyina) and Danish Refugee Council (DRC).

Most importantly, children and youth from the camps were valuable to the preparation and running of the event. Several activities including speeches, songs, dances, drama and a documentary on Ottawa Treaty  were presented during the event – all of which enhancing awareness on mine risk. A popular short drama was performed by young ‘actors’ from the IDP camp with support from CRS and KMSS.

The drama was entitled “myth”, and told the story of an adolescent who was unfortunately injured by mines due to misconceptions about landmines. For instance, too often children would think that letting animals go first will help identifying if the land is mined, some other people would think that after rainy season mines are deactivated…which is not true!. This tragic story became a lesson for the villagers and they learned from the survivor’s experience. During that Day, UNICEF and partners displayed learning materials for children not attending schools, and IDPs children and families decorated display tables with artistic ideas for further dissemination in the camp.

UNICEF plays a lead role in mine/ERW risk education in Kachin State and will continue to ensure that MRE activities are coordinated and effectively integrated into broader mine action, humanitarian and development programmes and policies

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