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International Mine Awareness Day: Tackling Landmines in Iraq

By Erin Hendricks
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A mine action technical adviser, with more than 21 years’ experience clearing explosive devices, shares his thoughts on how a mine-free world can be achieved.

Khalil Singer in Mosul north of Iraq on the roof of AlShifaa hospital which was cleared from landmines after damage caused by ISIS.

On Saturday 4 April, UN Secretary-General António Guterres shared a powerful message cancelling events scheduled to take place commemorating International Mine Awareness Day in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, while simultaneously praising the actions of the mine action community. 

International Mine Awareness Day aims to raise awareness about landmines and progress toward their eradication – at the end of 2019, 59 states remain contaminated by Landmines and Explosive Remnants of War (ERW). 

 Iraq is the most contaminated country 

 The Republic of  Iraq is the world’s most contaminated country by extent of mined area. According to Mine Action Review, at least 9,112 anti-personnel mines (a form of mine designed for use against humans) were destroyed in 2018.However, we are not on track to meet the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention Article 5 deadline of 1 February 2028. The different sectors must work together if we’re to get back on track. 

 The achievements of the mine action community show that, in working together, we can reach milestones once seen as impossible – a timely message for our efforts today to suppress transmission of the pandemic. 

– UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres  

 On the Front Line 

Khalil Singer, Mine Action Technical Adviser, in Libya.

Khalil Singer is a Mine Action Technical Adviser working towards a landmine-free Iraq. 

I joined this initiative to clear landmines in commitment to my country to eliminate the hidden threat from above and underground. I am  an ex-military Lieutenant Colonel with 21 years of experience in military engineering, Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) / Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (IEDD) technical advice and have conducted hundreds of humanitarian mine action clearance missions.  

Khalil graduated as a Second Lieutenant Military Engineering Platoon Leader in the Lebanese Armed Forces. He explains that back in 1995, Lebanon was heavily contaminated with ERWs and Explosive Ordinance (EO) landmines from war. The mines took thousands of innocent lives, so the military took the lead in conducting clearance for most of the Lebanese territory. After retiring from the army, he worked in Libya for two and a half years, before moving to Iraq. 

Khalil conducting counterparts capacity in Iraq

In 2006, 36 days of war with Israel left over a million square metres of land contaminated in Lebanon, including housesand infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands  of people were displaced from their homes and villages, and once the war ended, many were eager to go back but couldn’t because the areas were contaminated.  

The clearance itself was a massive challenge, especially because of the complex environment and short time period – wewere working 20 hours during the day for almost 8 months and most of the time conducting clearance with the owner of the house waiting for us to clear it so he could enter his shelter. 

Challenges facing Mine Action 

Khalil explains that some of the biggest challenges faced in mine action are lack of funds, time and experienced, technical manpower. 

In Lebanon, millions of fruitful agricultural lands cannot be developed because of landmines. This has a socio-economicimpact and shows how landmines are a barrier to sustainable development. Most of these areas become good sources of income after clearance. 

He believes that the delivery of aid into fragile and conflicted-affected countries can be improved with more involvement from the international community and a willingness to assist in the capacity building of affected countries. 

We have a long way to go to achieving our goal, and we certainly need to kick it up a notch if we’re going to adhere to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to ‘leave no one behind’. 

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