Ten years after the launch of Anglo-American military operations in Iraq, Handicap International has expressed its alarm at the dire situation facing the country’s civilian population. For the last 10 years, civilians have borne the brunt of armed violence in Iraq and the withdrawal of coalition troops has not improved the security situation.
The threat from millions of landmines and explosive remnants of war has increased the hardships facing the Iraqi people, who already live in extremely harsh conditions. In order to save lives, Handicap International plans to develop its risk education activities in the south of the country by adding a component on small arms.
Nearly 250,000 civilians were killed or injured in Iraq between March 2003 and January 2012 - equivalent to more than 75 civilian victims of armed violence every day for nine years. During the same period, civilians accounted for nearly 80% of deaths recorded in Iraq.
There has also recently been an increase in the number of small arms in circulation in Iraq, which very often fall into the hands of inexperienced civilians. More than half of civilian deaths or injuries since 2003 have been caused by small arms.
“The holders of these firearms do not know how to use them properly and they are not given safety training. It’s very common, during celebrations, when a lot of people fire into the air, for people to be injured or even killed,” explains Sylvie Bouko, Handicap International’s risk education specialist. “This is totally unacceptable.”
The presence of anti-personnel mines and explosive remnants of war increases the threat to civilians. After decades of conflict, Iraq is thought to be the country most heavily polluted by mines and explosive remnants of war in the world. It is likely to take several decades to clear more than 1,700 sq.km of contaminated land.
Since 2001, more than 20,000 people in Iraq have fallen victim to by mines and explosive remnants of war. 80% of affected areas in the south of the country are agricultural land farmed by the country’s poorest people. Without any other means of earning a livelihood, these small farmers put their lives on the line by entering the mined areas.
Handicap International has responded to this alarming situation by stepping up its activities in Iraq. The organisation has operated in the country since 1991, carrying out demining, risk education and orthopaedic-fitting activities. Today, Handicap International trains Iraqis to raise awareness among thousands of people about the dangers posed by mines and explosive remnants of war. In the coming months, the organisation wants to initiate prevention activities to reduce the number of accidents involving small arms. Handicap International also hopes that the international community will support efforts to secure a far-reaching treaty banning the illicit trade in these arms, between 18th and 28th March in New York.