Germans working with UNMAS clear mines in Iraq. Photo: UNAMI
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Germany has contributed a total of €44.2 million euros (about $52.5 million) to the United Nations Mine Action Service in Iraq for the clearance of mines and explosives.
“Mine action saves lives. The German government is committed to mine action in Iraq and will continue to support UNMAS to work closely with the Government of Iraq to mitigate the threat posed by explosive hazards,” said Cyrill Nunn, Germany’s Ambassador to Iraq in a press release by UNMAS on Tuesday.
Most recently, Germany contributed 10 million euros (nearly $12 million) towards humanitarian aid and another 7 million euros (over $8 million) towards stabilization services to further assist the Iraqi government in returning more than three million displaced people to their homes.
“Mine action is essential to facilitate the safe return of displaced people to their homes, and enable humanitarian and stabilization activities,” Nunn added.
UNMAS will focus on explosive hazards clearance of public spaces and risk education to “support the safe, dignified and voluntary return of Iraqis” as well as clearing important infrastructure.
Three years of ISIS control and military operations to liberate large cities in Iraq left key infrastructure in ruins, posing the largest rebuilding, stabilization and humanitarian challenges in the world.
As people continue to return to their homes in Fallujah, Ramadi, Tel Afar, Mosul and Hawija, the threat of explosives still remains significant.
One of the largest demining challenges UNMAS faces is clearing in the country’s second-largest city of Mosul, the last stronghold of ISIS which was declared liberated in July.
UNMAS began their initial assessment of the Old City of Mosul on November 20 and within the first two days more than 100 explosives were found on Ninewah Road, which is the main street used to cross through the Old City.
“The extent of explosive contamination in Mosul is of a previously unseen magnitude,” stated Pehr Lodhammar, Senior Programme Manager for UNMAS Iraq.
The presence of mines remains a daily risk in the Kurdistan Region as well its borders because of the remnants an estimated 5-6 million mines or unexploded ordinance from conflicts spanning back nearly 40 years.
Without foreign funding and organizations such as UNMAS, civilians would be required to demine the areas of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region themselves, without any special equipment which is needed. They have already been doing this for years.
One example is Hoshyar Ali. He has lost both of his legs in separate mine accidents, but dedicated his life to making sure no one else suffers his fate. With his own hands, prosthetic legs and without specialized equipment, he has been pulling out landmines around his hometown of Halabja since 1988.
Many areas in the Kurdistan Region and near its borders were mined during the Iran-Iraq War and through Saddam Hussein’s Baathist reign and have yet to be cleared.
About 14,000 people have been victims of landmines in the Kurdistan Region resulting in about 6,000 deaths, according to the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Southern areas of Iraq have also been affected by the 1991 Gulf War, the Iran-Iraq war, and the past 15 years of conflict following the US-led coalition invasion.
Anti-ISIS coalition partner nations, including those from the UK, have included improvised explosive device (IED) training in their training programs with Iraqi forces and NATO provided counter-IED kits to Iraq.
Iraq ranks among the world’s most heavily mine-affected countries, said the UN’s humanitarian coordinator Lise Grande at an event in Baghdad last year.
“The generous contribution from the Government of Germany will support the critical work of UNMAS to enable the safe, dignified and voluntary return home of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to liberated areas.” said Lodhammar, the UNMAS programme manager.