Thursday, January 21, 2010

Land Mines: Afghanistan - demining the "Devil's Garden"

Source: United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) Afghanistan has more landmines than most countries in the world.

About 650 km² of land remains contaminated by potentially deadly mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Life-saving de-mining work in Bagram district, Herat province, has cleared land once labelled the 'devil's garden' after it was heavily mined by the Soviets, before later being abandoned by the Taliban in 2001.

Video: mine-clearance work in Afghanistan's Herat province.

View this story as a photo-essay on Flickr

Sixty Afghans are injured or killed by landmines every month and more than half of victims are children.

But UKaid, through DFID, is helping the HALO Trust transform the area, allowing thousands of families to return and rebuild houses, schools and businesses.

HALO is two years into a five-year project to clear mines from the western province of Herat, supported by £11million from DFID.

It is making good progress on its target to clear 160 million m² of land by 2013.

One major success so far is the clearance of villages in the Bagram district of Herat that once formed the 1998-2001 frontline between the Taliban and the Afghan Northern Alliance.

During more than 20 years of conflict, more than 600,000 mines were laid, leaving a hellish legacy when the Taliban abandoned the area in 2001.

No family lived there, all vineyards and orchards had dried up and died; mosques, schools and public buildings had been destroyed.

HALO has cleared 45,000 mines from the district. One previously bare area now features a thriving market with shops, workshops, hotel and mosque.

Farmers ruined by the conflict are returning to grow crops and feed their families and communities.

Much of the land cleared by HALO teams last year is now flourishing again with crops such as wheat, melons and vegetables.

Key facts and stats

More than 70,000 people have returned to the Bagram district as a result of mine clearance work.

Five mosques and five large, mixed schools have been rebuilt. Companies involved in transportation of goods, food storage, and building works have also been set up.

The clearance of the main Chobaksh canal - a branch of the Parwan Irrigation Project - has provided water to hundreds of acres of land and vineyards, and more than 10km of secondary roads cleared by HALO Trust.

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