Younis Saleh Alzway
and his family were among the majority of civilians who fled their homes
in the northeastern city of Ajdabiya when the Libyan revolution began
more than a year ago. They returned months later, after forces loyal
to Libyas longtime autocrat, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, reclaimed
Then, last June, Younis three children and two of their cousins
were playing in a bedroom at Younis home when they found a strange
object. The thing began to smoke and make an odd noise. They called
to Younis whorealizing it was a grenadegrabbed it from them.
He ordered everyone to leave the room, and held the explosive close
to his chest to protect his family as best he could.
Seconds later, the grenade went off, killing him and two of his children
instantly. His wife, who was standing at the entrance to the childrens
room, sustained head injuries. The three children who survived were
injured, as well. One incurred chest wounds and needs a retinal operation,
while another lost her left eye and still has shrapnel in her legs.
A cousin suffered wounds to her abdomen, back of her neck, stomach and
Sadly, the familys plight is not unusual in Libya. Although the
major fighting seen during last years revolt ended when Gaddafi
was killed last October, the threat to civilians remains. Countless
anti-personnel landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW)unexploded
devices and missileslitter Libyas former combat zones, homes,
schools and public spaces. To prevent accidents from these weapons,
which are scattered throughout the country, our nongovernmental organization,
Handicap International, is raising awareness of the dangers posed by
the countrys ERW.
Located in North Africa along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Libya
shares borders with Egypt, Chad, Sudan, Niger, Algeria and Tunisia.
The majority of its 6.4 million people speak Arabic and practice Islam.
The main exports of this mostly desert nation are crude oil, petroleum
products and natural gas.
In 2011, Gaddafis 42-year reign ended following a six-month uprising
and ensuing civil war that was inspired, at least in part, by protests
that are still sweeping through the Arab world, commonly referred to
as the Arab Spring. Libya is currently governed by the National Transitional
Council, which emerged from the rebellion and announced plans to hold
elections some time in 2012.
After the fighting ends in any country that has known war, the first
thing people want to do is return home, even though their neighborhoods
have been bombed and mined. As a result, many civilians unwittingly
put themselves at risk.
The total number of casualties from landmines and ERW in Libya is unknown,
but mine and ERW casualty estimates worldwide ranged from 1,852 to 12,258
through the end of 2010, according to the 2011 Landmine and Cluster
Munitions Monitor. And the number of casualties from landmines and ERWincluding
cluster munition remnantswas expected to be significantly higher
Our organization is working to reduce the incidence and effects of armed
violence from landmines, unexploded ordnance, small arms and light weapons
in 18 of the 63 countries where we operate, including Libya.
Humanitarian mine action is composed of a number of activities, including
finding the mines, clearing them, educating the public that they exist,
assisting those who have been harmed, and providing local, national
and international advocacy.
Our campaign began in Libya in the spring of last year, soon after the
revolt against Gaddafi began. We have since trained approximately 100
Libyan nationals to raise awareness among people at risk from mines
and other ERW in areas of the country where much of the fighting occurred
between rebel militias and forces loyal to Gaddafi.
Weve worked closely with the Libyan Scouts, who swiftly moved
into action in the cities of Ajdabiya, Benghazi and Brega, and who have
been reaching out to displaced populations along the Tunisian and Egyptian
People are running huge risks because they dont realize
how dangerous these weapons can be, says Ali Abdel Moneim Al Zayani,
21, a Scout trained by our organization. People pick up unexploded
ordnance and keep them as battlefield souvenirs. Children play with
them, and other people organize displays of weapons in the street or
in schools. Some even try to clear their land of the ERW with rakes
or by hand. The results, too often, are disastrous.
Our teams and partners work directly with schools, businesses, authorities
and other organizations. In Libya, approximately 45,000 people have
attended risk education sessions, including at least 20,000 children,
who tend to be the primary victims. In Misrata, for example, which is
in northwestern Libya, a third of accidents involve children under the
age of 14, and nearly 80 percent of recorded victims of these explosives
are civilians under the age of 23.
We get the word out by distributing leaflets, through public service
announcements on popular radio stations, and by mounting roadside billboards
at checkpoints in the port city of Benghazi, the second largest town
in the country.
To date, weve distributed tens of thousands of risk education
leaflets about mines and ERW to vulnerable communities, and have displayed
upwards of 5,000 posters in towns and cities contaminated by these weapons.
Weve made a special effort to reach children by widely distributing
textbooks, primarily during risk-education sessions in schools. The
books feature simple images that are easy to understand, and demonstrate
basic safety precautions to follow if a child comes across an ERW. We
also use games and a song to get the message across. The latter, broadcast
on radio stations, has become a national hit.
Clearing Contaminated Land
Recently, Frederic Gras and his team faced a formidable task in the
suburbs of Tripoli: to neutralize several anti-aircraft missiles that
could have caused considerable damage had they been fired.
It is our duty to destroy them immediately, says Gras, who
manages our landmine and ERW clearance operations team in the capital
city. There are countless unexploded and abandoned devices in
Libya, which means weve probably still got months of work ahead.
Moving, dismantling and deactivating a missile, such as the ones Gras
and his team have found, is meticulous work that can take two to three
hours per item.
Last fall, we sent a de-mining specialist to Libya to assess local needs
by identifying zones that are contaminated by anti-personnel mines and
other ERW. The specialist has worked in conjunction with the authorities,
including the National Transitional Council, the Joint Mine Action Coordination
Team, the United Nations and other humanitarian operators in the field.
Following their assessment, teams were dispatched within Tripoli and
Sirte, which is halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi on the south coast.
Both sites have a team composed of a trauma medic and an expatriate
staff member who manages and trains Libyans to identify and destroy
mines and explosives throughout the country.
To date, Gras says, Handicap International has identified more than
2,000 ERW that pose danger to civilians in Tripoli, which is not only
the capital, but also Libyas largest city.
Along with our risk-education and clearance operations in former Libyan
conflict zones, we are working to teach civilians about the dangers
posed by small arms, such as revolvers, machine guns and assault rifles.
When the conflict began, Gaddafis forces opened arms stockpiles,
which were bolstered by weapons supplied from other governments. This
led to the proliferation of an unknown quantity of small arms, many
of which are now in the possession of civilians who dont know
how to use them. This, of course, leads to accidents.
Masouda Masoud, 48, was washing dishes in her garden last July when
she felt something hot hit her abdomen. When she called out for help,
her daughter came running and found a bullet wedged inside Masoudas
dress that caused burns and skin wounds. The bullet had been fired from
a gun during a celebratory shooting.
In October 2011, the month that Gaddafi was killed, another celebratory
shooting in Benghazi scattered stray bullets, injuring more than 60
people over five days, while in Tripoli, hundreds of people were killed
in accidents involving small arms and light weapons last fall, according
to data collected by the United Nations.
Similar to the mine- and ERW risk-education efforts, we have been organizing
prevention sessions to teach people about basic safety precautions.
Among these are workshops targeted at the group most affectedteenagers.
More than 1,300 teenagers in universities in Benghazi have been taught
about the risks of misusing weapons.
In addition, weve trained a number of teachers about best practices
regarding weapons, and they are passing the information on to students
and parents. Weve distributed risk-education kits in schools,
along with thousands of leaflets and posters to children who are endangered
by the presence of small arms and light weapons.
Messages about the threat of small arms were also displayed on billboards
in Benghazi, on heavily trafficked roads and in poor neighborhoods,
where many civilians possess small arms.
The organization is extending its small-arms risk-education activities
to Tripoli, one of the cities most severely affected by this new brand
of violence, and the topic of small arms will be included in risk-education
sessions on the dangers of ERW in other Libyan cities in 2012. Further,
we are raising awareness among various local organizations that act
as focal points for the campaign.
Protecting civilians is a top priority. In fact, we were founded by
two French doctors in Thailand in 1982 as a response to landmine injuries
suffered by Cambodian people living in refugee camps. There, we set
up orthopedic centers to provide immediate, effective and practical
orthotic devices using locally available equipment. .....
in ABILITY Magazine
click here to order a print copy or to subscribe Or
get a free digi issue with a "Like"
from the Geri Jewell Issue Apr/May
A Charter School With Its Thinking Cap On
Cleaning Up Explosive Remnants of War
ABILITY and China Press Join Forces
Accesible Taxis Several Cities
Get New Wheels
Jewell The Cracks of Life
Heart Care Expert Advice From a Surgeon
in the Geri Jewell Issue; Ashley Fiolek When CNN Came Calling;
Sen. Harkin Education Determines Income; George Covington
Introducing Dan Quayle; Accesible Taxis Several Cities Get New
Wheels; Of Two Minds Film Probes Bipolar Disorder; Book Excerpt
Silent Voices; CHIME A Charter School With Its Thinking
Cap On; Libya Cleaning Up Explosive Remnants of War; China
ABILITY and China Press Join Forces; Geri Jewell The Cracks of
Life; Transitions Aging With Cerebral Palsy; Heart Care
Expert Advice From a Surgeon; Disability Rights Legal Center
The Health Care Act; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences...