Some people displaced by the war in Ukraine are beginning to return home to cities contaminated by explosive ordnance. Humanity & Inclusion will prepare communities to identify hazards and adopt safe behaviors.Read more
Humanity & Inclusion is working with communities in Ukraine to help them adopt conflict preparedness behaviors before, during and after armed attacks.Read more
Anfal Mahmoud Ali, shares how her experience living amid conflict shapes her work as a mental health and psychosocial support officer for Humanity & Inclusion in Iraq.
I remember May 5, 2017, like it was yesterday.
My family had been hiding in our bathroom for days without food or water, clutching our IDs. Our neighborhood in Mosul had been liberated from ISIS, but fighting on our street persisted. Then the airstrike happened. Our family home crumbled around us. By a miracle, we survived and managed to escape first to a neighbor’s house, then to a displacement camp.
Later that year, we returned to Mosul. We had nothing. A friend of mine told me that Humanity & Inclusion was hiring, so I applied. Since working here, I've been able to support my family, repair my house, and rebuild our lives.
I've seen first-hand the effect that conflict has on civilians. They lose their loved ones, their jobs, and their homes. And they usually face poor conditions, even after the fighting is over. Violence and devastation can cause people to experience depression, sadness and sometimes suicidal thoughts. Some people suppress their feelings. Others develop physical or chronic illness as their mental health needs go untreated.
My colleagues and I conduct awareness sessions with people experiencing psychological trauma, encouraging them to seek help and teaching coping mechanisms. When I meet all of these wonderful people, I am motivated to wake up in the morning and do my work with love. My neighbors understand that we need to stand by each other to survive. I thank those who are helping survivors of conflict, like me, access essential resources—shelter, rehabilitation, mental health support, and more.
(Washington, 19 April 2022)—The U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines - U.S. Cluster Munition Coalition (USCBL-USCMC) takes exception to U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley’s remarks concerning landmines during his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 7, 2022.
General Milley testified that “we need to look no further than what’s happening actually in Ukraine, the landmines are being effectively used by the Ukrainian forces to shape the avenues of approach…Anti-tank or anti-personnel mines are effective for use in combat.” The USCBL-USCMC strongly condemns the use of internationally banned anti-personnel landmines by any party, regardless of any potential military use, because they disproportionately and indiscriminately kill and maim civilians during, and long after, wars have ended.
General Milley mentioned two types of mines: anti-personnel and anti-tank. Anti-personnel landmines, which are banned under the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty to which 164 countries are states parties, are inherently indiscriminate weapons incapable of distinguishing between civilians and combatants. Ukraine is party to the treaty; as of the publication of this statement, there has been no reported use of anti-personnel mines by Ukrainian forces. Neither Russia nor the United States is party to the Mine Ban Treaty, and Russian forces have used anti-personnel mines in Ukraine.
Ukraine is already one of the most mine-affected countries in the world: every day, more than half a million children live, study and play in mine-contaminated areas of Ukraine.
USCBL-USCMC continues to strongly urge the Biden Administration to take swift action to condemn the use of anti-personnel landmines and take immediate steps to ban the use of such landmines by the U.S. and accede to the Mine Ban Treaty. The failure of the United States to join the international agreement banning anti-personnel landmines weakens the impact of United States’ criticism of Russia’s use of these weapons.
USCBL-USCMC Steering Committee
Humanity & Inclusion (chair)
Amnesty International USA
Arms Control Association
Center for Civilians in Conflict
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Human Rights Watch
Legacies of War
Physicians for Human Rights
United Methodist Church -General Board of Church and Society
West Virginia Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munitions / Proud Students Against Landmines
After Denys Byzov and his family were forced to flee their home in Kyiv amid violent rocket attacks and bombing, he said goodbye to his wife and 1-year-old baby as they crossed the border while he stayed behind.
He joined Humanity & Inclusion’s emergency response team as a cultural mediator and translator to ensure that needs of his fellow Ukrainians are heard, and that the organization’s actions take everyone into account.Read more
Denys Byzov, a Kyiv resident and Humanity & Inclusion’s cultural mediator in Ukraine, shares his experience evacuating his family in armed conflict.Read more
Lamngueun joined Humanity & Inclusion in 2006 as an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) expert. Today, she manages an 8-person clearance team in Laos, which has the most cluster munition contamination in the world. She tells her experience:
Hi! My name is Lamngueun and I am 40 years old. I grew up in Phine, a town in Savannakhet Province in Laos, which is an area heavily affected by unexploded ordnances. I come from a large family; I have seven sisters and brothers. I now have three children of my own.
I am proud to be a female deminer; every day I think to myself how it is a great feeling to demonstrate that the disposal and destruction of explosive devices is not a profession only for men. I am one of the few female deminers to reach the EOD level 3, which means I manage a clearance team and supervise remediation of sites.
Q: Has your team discovered anything unusual recently?
At the end of 2021, we were clearing an area in Nalaeng village, North Laos, with the explosive ordnances disposal expert team. The contaminated area was all over a hill surrounding the village. As usual, we found a lot of submunitions but not only that.
After five or six days of work, one morning an operator uncovered a large metallic object while he was excavating. He called me to investigate and identify the finding. We identified it as a Mk82 500-pound aircraft bomb—dropped by a U.S. military plane—laid in horizontal position, around 25 inches below the surface. This is a large bomb very common in the Savannakhet Province (East of the country) but not so common here in the North of Laos where we usually find smaller items such as artillery, mortar, grenades, rockets and cluster munitions. This was an event for the team and an opportunity for the supervisors to share their expertise. They explained how the tail fuse works and how to identify it.
We marked the site where the device was discovered, and the risk area around it. Then, the Operations Chief came to the site to assist in planning the disposal of the bomb. Such a bomb requires a 1-mile safety radius around the device. Two days later, the bomb was safe after partially evacuating the nearby village and moving the device to a disposal pit where it was destroyed using six pounds of TNT.
For this, I contributed to positively identifying the bomb, planning the demolition and securing the area on the day of disposal.
Q: What are the key qualities to make a successful EOD expert?
The most important thing is to be always concentrated on what you are doing. As a team leader, I need to take responsibility to ensure all tasks are assigned safely and completed to good quality, as planned.
We are in contact of explosive ordnances almost every day so we have to be alert all the time. A few days ago, we found and destroyed more than 10 cluster munitions and explosive ordnances in one day as we were clearing a rice field in Homphanh village in the district of Houameuang, North Laos!
For this job, you also need to be both physically and mentally strong. Field operations can be harsh. For example, the agriculture land here in Houameuang is mostly on the edge of mountains. We work long hours swinging a 26-pound metal detector. Excavating is hard work. Then, at the end of the day, when you think you have finished, we get back to base camp where we have to wash our clothes, help cook dinner, and complete our daily report.
Q: When and how did you become a deminer for Humanity & Inclusion?
It was in 2005, when I was just finishing school, I remember seeing that Humanity & Inclusion was looking for EOD operators. I decided to submit an application to work for the organization as an EOD expert. The process of applying for the job was not easy; I was lucky to be short-listed but then I had to go through a series of tests: mathematics, reading, medical and physical tests. After all my hard work I found out I passed!
The job started with an intensive 2-month training course. I found myself in a classroom with 25 other young men and women. We learned how explosive ordnances work, what the hazards are, how to use specialist equipment such as a detector, how to destroy an unexploded bomb, how to use a radio or a megaphone, and how to provide medical first aid.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
I was happy to get a job that helps to protect people from the danger of explosive ordnances. There are many explosive ordnances in Laos. Many accidents occurred. One accident is vivid in my memory: my father had an accident in 1984. A day after he finished office work in the evening, he went to work in the rice field. He dug and repaired the earthen dyke of the rice paddy with his spade. He hit an explosive device and it exploded. He was very lucky as he was not seriously injured, but he had to go to hospital for a week.
I have seen my grandparents, parents, children and many people in my community living in fear each day knowing the risks of deadly unexploded ordnances. I am so glad to participate to address the issue.
Q: How do you balance working as an EOD expert with having a family?
When Humanity & Inclusion’s base moved from Savanakhet province, where my three children live, to Houameuang in North Laos, it was really difficult. This means I am further away from my family. It takes one-and-a-half days to travel back home.
We have three campaign breaks each year, but last year because of Covid-19, there were a lot of disruptions and we worked from April through December without going back home. That was a long time for me.
Videos calls help because I can see how my children are doing back home. There are not many job opportunities close to my family and it is crucial for me to provide an income to support them; this is what motivates me to continue such important work.
Enacted 25 years ago, the Mine Ban Treaty has been a major step forward in international humanitarian law. But there is a long way to go to eradicate landmines. Anne Héry, Humanity & Inclusion’s Advocacy Director, explains the history of the fight to ban landmines and the ongoing challenges.
Q: Why are landmines banned?
A landmine is triggered by its victim, which is the very definition of landmine: you walk on a landmine, a plate presser triggers and causes an explosion, for example. It is indiscriminate; a landmine cannot differentiate between a soldier and a civilian. More than 80% of landmine victims are civilians.
Landmines are also cruel weapons. Landmines kill or inflict life-long injuries that may cause permanent disabilities. They blow off its victims' legs, feet, toes and hands—and may destroy their eyesight; Many landmine victims require their injured limb to be amputated. Landmines are designed to mutilate.
Q: What are the consequences of the presence of mines after a conflict?
A landmine laid during a conflict remains active decades after the end of hostilities. A large number of victims are killed or injured years after the conflict in their country has ended. Fights are over but the mines are still there. Presence of mines also has serious economic and social consequences. Communities are deprived of their contaminated land they depend upon like farmland, and water points may no longer be accessible.
Q: 25 years after the Mine Ban Treaty Treaty was signed, can we say we have won the fight against landmines?
The number of casualties decreased after the treaty entered into force, but we are now facing new challenges with recent increasing uses of landmines, specifically the increasing use of improvised landmines—or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that function as landmines when they are victim-activated. More than 7,000 people were injured or killed by landmines in 2020, according to the Landmine Monitor 2021. Of them, one-third were victims of improvised landmines. A high number of landmine casualties have been recorded six years in a row following a sharp 15-year decline.
Landmines are not weapons of the past for the victims; we need to continue providing meaningful assistance to people who are injured, family members of those injured or killed, as well as affected communities. In many countries declared mine-free, victims still need assistance for the rest of their lives: medical care, rehabilitation, social and financial support. Only 14 States have victim assistance programs or disability plans in place to address recognized needs and gaps for people injured by landmines.
Q: What is the Mine Ban Treaty?
The Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Treaty, is signed by 164 states parties and includes a series of obligations. The first obligation is to stop to use, production and trade of landmines. States that have contaminated lands are also obliged to clear their territory of landmines, giving each country a 10-year deadline to do so. Since the adoption of the treaty in 1997, more than 30 States Parties have now cleared their territory. Clearance operations are underway in 35 other States, although most have had to request an extension of their original 10-year deadlines.
States are also committed to assisting landmine victims, most of whom are located in countries with very limited health and physical rehabilitation facilities. Victim assistance in the Ottawa Treaty was a major step forward. It includes the need for adapted medical assistance, rehabilitation services for the direct victims, and social and financial supports for families can bear the consequences of landmine accidents.
States parties also are required to destroy their stockpiled landmines. Prior to the adoption of the treaty, more than 130 States were reported to have such weapons. Since then, states parties have destroyed more than 55 million stockpiled landmines.
Q: What’s next for the landmine advocacy?
Although it has not been signed by all states in the world, the Mine Ban Treaty has become an internationally recognized and respected norm. But still, 35 states remain non-signatories of the Ottawa Treaty, including the United States, Russia, and China. A concerted and renewed universalization effort is essential to bring these states on board and reach the objective of a mine-free world.
We also have to work with non-states armed groups, as they are the main users of improvised mines, to incite them to bind by the humanitarian law and the Ottawa Treaty. Some NGOs like Geneva Call are specialized in mediation with non-states armed groups. We’re not naïve; we know with some groups it would be very difficult but we have had some success in the past.
There is still a lot of to do in terms of victim assistance. In many countries, people who have survived a mine incident may not have the appropriate medical care or services, including functional artificial limbs and psychosocial support. This area needs to be developed. We also need to strengthen their rights, as landmine victims often face difficulty in accessing the labor market, education, culture, sports, and more. States parties to the treaty need to develop support programs for mine survivors and affected families, especially inclusive education, livelihoods, small business or regular employment.
Finally, with the Ottawa Treaty, States have agreed to free the world of mines. We will continue to take on their obligation to increase their efforts to reach this important goal!
Mohammad Rasool manages Humanity & Inclusion’s programs in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where the organization has been running a rehabilitation center since 1996.
Due to a collapsing economy, drought and consequences following years of war, the humanitarian context has significantly deteriorated. Since U.S. military troops left and the government was overturned in August, people have been flocking to the Kandahar rehabilitation center.
What kinds of people visit the rehabilitation center in Kandahar?
The vast majority of people are victims of the war and of explosive weapons. Last November, I met an 8-year-old girl from Zabul Province, which neighbors Kandahar. A mortar bomb hit her house while she was playing at home with her cousins. She was badly injured in the blast, and she was taken to several hospitals for treatment. Her father and family live on very little income, unable to afford the cost of transportation to Kandahar. After many difficult months, her family finally managed to transport her to Kandahar where she received treatment. Unfortunately, by then, her left leg had to be amputated.
Humanity & Inclusion’s team at the center worked with the young girl for several weeks as she recovered from the operation. We provided rehabilitation sessions to increase her mobility, strength and balance. Finally, when she was ready, measurements were taken and she received a prosthetic leg.
What is the rehabilitation landscape in Afghanistan?
The rehabilitation needs are immense. People come to the center every day, sometimes from very far away. For some families, the journey to the center takes an entire day, as there are only two rehabilitation centers that serve the south of the country. Since August 2021, we have seen a major increase in patient numbers. More people have been able to access the center since the fighting; roadblocks and strict security measures have ended. Now, we receive more than 100 people a week at the Kandahar center.
How strong is the connection between disability and explosive remnants of war?
Based on our data from the center, the majority of the people have acquired disabilities following contact with explosives, landmines and other remnants of war. In Afghanistan, the prevalence of disability is very high: 80% of the Afghan population has some form of disability due to the presence of mines, explosive remnants of war, armed conflicts and limited access to health and nutrition services.
What is the general situation in Afghanistan six months after the Taliban seized power?
More than half the population is in need of humanitarian assistance. People are really struggling with poverty, displacement, drought, and the ongoing risks associated with improvised explosive devices. The country’s health system is overwhelmed and the economy is collapsing. Many struggle just to get food. With no more cash in circulation, civil servants have not been paid for months and people are unable to buy goods.
How is Humanity & Inclusion responding?
Humanity & Inclusion provides rehabilitation care as the medical system in the country is unable to meet the current demand. As physical therapy services are scarce, we have a national plan to train more than 120 physical therapists over the course of a 3-year curriculum. Humanity & Inclusion also provides psychosocial support to many people experiencing stress and anxiety since there are very few mental health services in the country. We also conduct risk education sessions, as the presence of mines and explosive remnants of war remain a daily threat to the population.
Teams in Kunduz and Herat started providing cash assistance to support families with the lowest income. We will provide between six and nine allowances of $200, targeting 1,600 families. This financial support will enable them to buy food and access basic services like medical care.
Humanity & Inclusion in Afghanistan
Humanity & Inclusion has worked in Afghanistan since 1987 and is active in the five provinces Kandahar, Nimroz, Herat, Kunduz, and Kabul. The organization’s actions include physical rehabilitation, psychosocial support, mine risk education, training of new physical therapists and cash assistance.
Annually, Humanity & Inclusion assists approximately 9,000 survivors of conflict and people with disabilities at the physical rehabilitation center in Kandahar alone. Additionally, mobile teams support thousands of internally displaced people, returnees, and people with disabilities annually.
Currently, Humanity & Inclusion has 370 staff, including 114 women, based in Afghanistan.
After seven years of war, Yemen is heavily contaminated by mines, remnants of bombs, and other explosive weapons. Humanity & Inclusion is raising awareness about the dangers they pose.
Douglas Kilama, Humanity & Inclusion risk education coordinator, explains how explosive weapons impact Yemen and the civilians living there.
What is the extent of the contamination in Yemen?
It is impossible to have a precise idea or even an estimate of the contamination due to the current fighting and the impossibility to collect data. But Yemen is believed to be one of the most heavily contaminated countries in the world.
I am shocked by the diversity of the contamination here: mines, improvised mines, abandoned explosive ordnances, unexploded ordnances, improvised explosive devices cluster munitions, etc. The extent of the contamination by improvised mines is unbelievable. Analysis of some 2,400 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) since 2017 found that 70% of them are mines of improvised nature: meaning they are detonated by the presence, proximity, or contact of a person or a vehicle.
Contamination is especially high along Yemen’s west coast, near the strategic port of Hodeida, Taiz governorate and more recently around Marib, a focus of intense fighting in 2020. These mines are used in a traditional fashion: in order to slow down or block the progress of enemy forces or protect a strategic point. We also got reports on marine mines and marine improvised mines in Mocha and Hodeida. Civilians are always the first victims of this contamination.
How these IEDs are produced?
There are large stocks of explosive ordnance which are either unexploded or abandoned in Yemen. They can be used as raw material to produce IEDs. After aerial bombings, remnants of exploded bombs can also be used as raw material to produce improvised explosive devices. But parties to armed conflicts are not the only one to use mines. Recent UN experts indicate the rising use of improvised devices by criminal groups.
Where and how do mine-related incidents occur?
The UN Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen reported 1,300 civilians “affected in landmine or explosive remnants related incidents” in 2020. Most of the accidents occur during people’s daily activities: going to a well to fetch water, farming crops or tending livestock, using public infrastructures such as roads, buildings, education and health facilities. Accidents occur in urban areas as well as in rural areas. For the vast majority of the population, the presence of this contamination is new, and they do not know how to deal with it. They have no knowledge on the danger. Risk education programs are urgently needed to avoid accident and protect the population.
What action is Humanity & Inclusion taking against this contamination?
We will start awareness campaigns in Mocha and Al-Khokha districts of Taiz and Al-Hodeida governorates respectively as well as Hajjah, Sanaa and Aden governorates in March. We will have eight teams of two Risk Education Agents each to conduct awareness sessions in hospitals, schools, and public infrastructures. We also plan door-to-door sessions in the south, and with internally displaced people at camps as there are still large movements of population to and from Hodeida and Taiz.
The messages are very simple: First, we present images of explosive devices for the audience to recognize the threats. Stop, do not approach or touch, warn others nearby not to approach or touch it, remember the place by putting a warning sign from a safe distance, return the way that you came from and seek a safe route. Report the location of the object to authority.
The audience are also made aware of common places where these items are most likely to be found by teaching them how to identify warning signs and clues indicating possible presence of explosive ordnance in their areas and how to avoid them.
Douglas Felix Kilama is the Risk Education Coordinator for Humanity & Inclusion in Yemen. He is based in Sanaa.
Douglas has 20 years of experience in humanitarian work with specialization in explosive ordnance risk education, victim assistance and protection of children associated with armed forces or groups. In addition to Yemen, he has worked in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jordan, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Uganda.
He holds a M.A in Diplomacy & International Studies from Uganda Martyrs University and B.A in Literature and Political Science from Makerere University.