Libya: reducing post-war threat

On July 7, 2012, Libyans will elect 200 members to the General National Congress (GNC) in the country's first, free national elections for more than 40 years.

The development and stability of Libya now depends on eliminating the threat from mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), such as unexploded shells, grenades, cluster munitions, and reducing armed violence. 

Over the past 18 months, the organization has been demining land, informing civilians of the dangers posed by mines and ERW, and limiting the risks associated with the proliferation of small arms.

Protecting civilians from unexploded remnants of war: a priority for Handicap International
Children are the principle victims of these weapons. Since March 2011, nearly 70,000 people have attended Handicap International's ERW risk education sessions. These sessions target people living in danger zones, and many are focused on teaching children. 

“People are putting themselves in a lot of danger because they are unaware of the risks they run when they come into contact with these weapons,” explains Frederic Maio, manager of Handicap International's Libya program. “Some people pick up unexploded ordnance and keep them as battlefield souvenirs, others display the weapons in the street or schools, and children even play with them. Civilians are demining their own land with rakes or by hand. It's extremely important to educate them about the risks.”

Handicap International trains local liaison officers to work directly with schools, businesses, mosques, authorities and local organizations to teach people how to stay safe when they come across a mine or ERW. These lessons include never touching an unidentified object, staying away from the danger zone, marking the area in which the object was found, and alerting the authorities and Handicap International.

Handicap International teams have also performed mine clearance operations (identifying, removing and destroying mines and other ERW) in Tripoli, Sirte and Misrata, since April 2011. As hundreds of thousands of displaced people return to their homes, they are finding mines or ERW in their gardens, living rooms, children's bedrooms or at work. Focusing mainly on the districts that were worst affected by fighting, teams have destroyed more than 5,000 mines and ERW. Two schools, a public park and 27 farms have also been demined and reopened to the public.

Small arms threat
Civilians gained access to millions of small arms after forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi opened weapons stockpiles, and several states delivered arms after the conflict began. This profusion of weapons among the civilian population, unaccustomed to their use, has caused numerous accidents. “We're trying to prevent civilians firing into the air during celebrations because they often end up injuring the people around them,” explains Maio. Three to five victims arrive at the hospital in Tripoli every day. 

For Handicap International, tackling this threat to civilian safety is a top priority. One of the organization's teams is currently working in Tripoli where it is training local organizations, hospital staff in Tripoli, and school teachers in awareness techniques and simple life-saving gestures, such as not letting children play with small arms, not firing into the air during celebrations or demonstrations, and using a safety catch when weapons are not in use. 

Posters have also been displayed around Tripoli, particularly in the poorest neighbourhoods, where these weapons are most widely used.

Learn more about Handicap International's work in Libya by reading the most recent Libya Situation Report Update.