Frederic Maio is the Desk Officer for Handicap International's work in Libya. Three years after the uprising began, Frederic took time to discuss the ongoing threat posed by explosive weapons, the dangerous legacy of armed violence and what Handicap International is doing to reduce the risks among people in Libya.
Are explosive weapons still a danger to Libyans?
People’s first reaction at the end of fighting is to go home. In this still very fragile country, hundreds of thousands of displaced people have returned home to areas that were bombarded or mined. For these people, there is danger everywhere.
Even today, families are still finding explosive remnants of war in their homes, their gardens, their living rooms. Numerous civilians unwittingly expose themselves to danger. Some of them are even tempted to salvage the metal or the explosives from abandoned bombs. This type of behavior is very dangerous and illustrates the daily need to destroy these weapons and raise awareness among civilians of the risk they represent.
The rebellion against Gaddafi's regime also led to an uncontrolled influx of light weapons, which has considerably increased the number of accidents. The general instability in the country and the lack of control from institutions such as the police, have engendered a feeling of insecurity amongst the population, who feel they have to own weapons to ensure their own protection.
However, civilians are not used to handling weapons. The (weapons) are regularly used to express people's happiness, even at weddings, where guests engage in celebratory gunfire! This often leads to accidents, frequently involving children and adolescents, which shows how vital it is to continue our work to secure munitions stockpiles, and to continue raising awareness and spreading risk prevention messages, as we are currently doing in Misrata.
What are Handicap International's 2014 objectives in Libya?
In 2013, the organization stepped up its clearance activities, with the deployment of two new demining teams in an area near Misrata that was heavily contaminated by the bombing of over 40 bunkers containing munitions of all types. This has made it possible to limit the risk of accidents. It is a long-term undertaking and we need to increase our efforts in 2014, but we need some more funds to finish clearing these bunkers.
This year, we have two priority actions. First, to reinforce awareness-raising about the danger from weapons, both to control the presence of mines and to prevent accidents involving small arms and light weapons. Second, to build the capacity of a local organization, which will be able to take on and carry forward all our activities in the country when we are no longer present. It is a priority for Handicap International to ensure the long-term sustainability of our actions, so that our efforts outlive our presence and the country is able to tackle these challenges itself.
Photo: Ian Forde, a Handicap International weapons clearance expert, standing by a stockpile of shells and other explosive weapons near Misrata.