History of Mine and ERW Contamination in Afghanistan
After more than 30 years of war, Afghanistan is one of the countries in the world most affected by landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW). The majority of the contamination stems from the Soviet occupation from 1979 to 1989, however subsequent civil war between the Afghan government and the Mujahedin movement, conflicts between various warlords, and the Taliban war against the Northern Alliance have also resulted in minelaying and an increase in ERW across the country.In addition to this, since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 there has been ongoing conflict between the Afghan National Army (supported by the International Stabilization Assistance Force, ISAF) and Armed Opposition Groups (AOGs), which has included ground engagements and bombing campaigns that have also added to the number of ERW across the country.
Since 1967, there have been over 24,300 casualties from mines and ERW, making Afghanistan the country with the highest number of recorded mine/ERW victims in the world. In recent years, victim activated pressure-plate IEDs (PPIEDs) have also caused a significant number of accidents among civilians. According to the Landmine Monitor, in 2014 there were 1,296 casualties from mines (4%), ERW (33%) and IEDs (63%), which represents a rise of 23% in the number of civilian victims compared to 2013’s casualty figures.
Of particular concern is the marked increase in the number of accidents from ERW, likely due to the high number of ground conflicts across Afghanistan in 2014 and 2015. These ground conflicts have meant an increased use of indirect-fire weapons such as mortars and rockets, which has resulted in a subsequent increase in the number of unexploded ordnance. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has documented a total of 95 incidents of ERW detonation resulting in 208 civilian casualties over the first six months of 2015 alone, and 83% of the casualties have been children (with the exception of IEDs and ground engagements, ERW injured and killed more children than any other type of conflict-related incident).
The presence of mines and ERW also impacts service delivery and the access of humanitarian actors to many areas of the country. This has a direct impact on IDPs wanting to return to their homes, as well as more immediately to IDPs moving through conflict affected areas with likely high levels of contamination from mines and ERW. This also inhibited the delivery of critical emergency response activities, as humanitarian actors cannot access some of the most penurious districts due to the risk posed by mines and ERW.
Landmines and ERW also block the access and use of resources in Afghanistan. Many areas of potentially productive agricultural land is affected by mines and ERW; this is especially problematic in the many narrow valleys between mountain ranges that exist in Afghanistan, where land for farming is already scarce and precious for subsistence agriculture. Social and economic infrastructure that has been mined or is affected by ERW, such as schools, health clinics, and government buildings, also has a significant negative impact on communities trying to rebuild and recover from conflict in Afghanistan.
DDG has operated in Afghanistan since 1999, initially beginning operations in Kandahar province, before moving its headquarters to its current location in Kabul. DDG delivers a full package of mine action services, including non-technical and technical survey, mine and ERW risk education, mine clearance, battle area clearance, and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD).
The main beneficiaries of DDG’s work are diverse; however in the changing security environment of Afghanistan, DDG is increasingly focusing on providing services along axes of displacement, as well as in returnee areas for refugees and internally displaced persons. This is in order to provide emergency humanitarian relief in conflict-affected populations, to ensure access for service providers (including other humanitarian organizations) to where they are most needed, and to enable durable solutions and resilience in conflict-affected communities.
In 2014, DDG began supporting the Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan (MACCA) with their EOD hotline, a phone number that Afghan people can call for assistance when they encounter an explosive weapon. DDG currently responds to 80% of the calls that the MACCA receives, and has cleared over 2,000 items of ERW in 400 separate call-outs since the project began. This service helps improve the confidence in communities that there will be a response when they report items to the MACCA hotline, and helps to reduce the risk of accidents from community members handling ERW or trying to dispose of it themselves.