Removing Landmines and Cluster Bombs in Karabakh

http://asbarez.com/107464/removing-landmines-and-cluster-bombs-in-karabakh/
Friday, January 4th, 2013 | Posted by Contributor

A shOAB cluster munition found near Vazgenashan village - the deminer
places an explosive charge to destroy it

Great Success in Clearance but Need Remains

BY AMY CURREN

It is hard to imagine having to worry that your next step might set
off an explosion. Can you imagine a child, unable to remember a war,
yet becoming its victim? Though fighting ceased 18 years ago, the
people of Nagorno Karabakh still suffer from landmines and cluster
bombs. The 1992-94 war between Armenia and Azerbaijan left behind
hundreds of minefields and cluster bomb strikes. Last February, Melo
Babayan, a shepherd from Lachin Region and father of four, stepped on
a landmine while herding his sheep. He lost his left leg in the
accident. In fact, Karabakh has one of the world's highest per capita
mine casualty rates - on a par with Afghanistan and surpassing
Cambodia. Since the ceasefire, The HALO Trust has recorded 335 mine or
explosive remnants of war casualties in Karabakh between 1995 and the
end of 2012. Over a quarter of the total recorded casualties (89) were
children, mostly boys.

The good news is that The HALO Trust, the world's oldest and largest
humanitarian mineclearance organization, established in Karabakh since
1995, has made tremendous progress. HALO currently employs 142
Karabakhi staff, supported by a single international expatriate. To
date, the locally recruited staff have destroyed over 65,000 explosive
items and returned over 64,000 acres of land for productive use. Over
85% of the minefields have been cleared in Karabakh, and 70% of all
cluster munition strikes. As a result, causality rates have declined
annually since 1995.

HALO's work not only protects potential victims it returns valuable
land to the local community for safe use. As even where the presence
of mines and cluster bombs is known and can be avoided, they cripple
the economy by denying farmers the use of the land. Clearance saves
lives and puts family farms back in business. Farmer Seyran
Aghadjanian's fields, near Vazgenashen Village in Martuni Region, were
mined during the war. Local farmers lost two tractors attempting to
cultivate land in the area before they decided it was just too
dangerous. HALO cleared 28 acres of agricultural land that allowed
Seyran and the other famers to cultivate in safety. He said, `Now that
HALO has cleared the area I am happy - I can grow corn and support my
family.' Seyran's story is typical. It is estimated that the
potential economic output of the contaminated land being released -
primarily agricultural land - exceeds $5 million a year.

Norashen, in Hadrut Region, is one of the villages that still require
clearance. Mines were laid in 1992 by Azeri soldiers protecting their
military positions and have since caused many accidents. The area
suspected of containing mines is approximately 60 acres. This area
includes agricultural fields owned by five families. Gohar Karapetyan
is one of the landowners whose family would directly benefit from the
mineclearance. She lives with her son, his wife, his four children and
her late brother's three orphaned grandchildren (her husband died from
a heart attack two years ago). Her son Edward, works for the gas
department earning 40,000AMDs ($96) per month and is the only member
of the family who earns a regular income. The family wants to
cultivate the 11 acres of land they own but is frightened to do so
because of the mines. The sales from the wheat they could grow on the
land would earn them an extra $3,000 a year, significantly helping
them to provide for their family.

The end is in sight and HALO is actively looking for champions from
the Armenian community to help finish the job. HALO's work in Nagorno
Karabakh is currently supported by the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID), the Reece Foundation and Grapes for Humanity,
Canada. Yet, in 2013, without new private donors, HALO faces a
shortfall of funds which would delay completion of this urgent and
lifesaving work. Furthermore, HALO is restricted in the areas in
which it can use its USAID funding - for example it cannot be used
around Berdzor. This means that without a significant increase in
private donor funding the people of Berdzor and similar areas will
live with the threat of mines for many years to come. Join The HALO
Trust in the campaign to bring an end to this deadly legacy and
instead a better future to the people of Artsakh.

To support mineclearance in Artsakh or for more information contact
Amy Currin, HALO's Development Manager, at [email protected] or
+1-415-986-4852. You can donate online at halousa.org or via check to
The HALO Trust 220 Montgomery Street, Suite 968, San Francisco, CA
94104.