Afghanistan: UN demining project warns of new risks from unexploded bombs

19 October 2001

A senior official with the United Nations mine clearing programme in Afghanistan today voiced concern that people moving around in the areas that have been heavily bombarded could face additional risk from unexploded ordnance.

Dan Kelly, manager of the UN Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan, told reporters in Islamabad that in the recent air strikes on Afghanistan, a large number of new explosive devices have been used in different parts of the country, particularly in Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat and Kunduz.

"Some of them remain unexploded on the ground, including the one that had hit a boys' school in Kabul three days ago," he said, referring to an incident in which there were no casualties. "There are also mined areas along both the Iranian and Pakistani borders, which pose a risk to refugees or displaced persons."

According to Mr. Kelly, Afghanistan was one of the most "mine and unexploded ordnance affected countries in the world," with at least 732 million square metres of the country still mined. Of this, 355 million square meters are classified as high priority land for clearance, much of it made up of residential areas, roads, irrigation systems and primary production land.

An additional 100 million square metres of land are contaminated in the northern front line areas. About 12,000 internally displaced families are east of the front line and may move across these newly mined areas, the UN warned.

"Mines and unexploded ordnance pose a grave threat to lives in Afghanistan," Mr. Kelly said. "Even before the beginning of the current air campaign, they injured between 40 to 100 people per week. Some 40 to 50 per cent of mine victims die in minefields or while being transported to a medical facility."

Afghans desperate to survive collect scrap metal, including unexploded ordnance, Mr. Kelly said. "The UN Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan is urging all Afghans, whether they live in residential areas, refugee camps, or shelters for internally displaced people, not to approach any unidentified objects or attempt to collect them for any reason."

The Programme employs some 4,800 mine action workers throughout Afghanistan. Four security guards working with a local mine-clearing organization affiliated with the UN were among the first civilians killed in the bombing raids.