Afghanistan: Mine Action in Afghanistan – Looking for Hope

20 Years Supporting Landmine Victims

Over 20 years have passed since AAR Japan first began our mine clearance activities in Afghanistan, using the net proceeds from the Anti-Personnel Landmine Removal Campaign picture book “Not Mines, But Flowers”, (illustration by Shomei YOU, story by Fusako YANASE, 610,000 copies published by Jiyukokuminsha). It has been 18 years since we established an office in the capital city of Kabul, in January of 2002. During this time, of the many humanitarian aid needs in Afghanistan, AAR Japan has continued its mine clearance, victim assistance, and mine risk education activities. The reason for this is simple: so long as there are land mines, people will not be able to live their lives in peace.
Mine action taken by the international community, including AAR Japan, have played a large role in reducing the number the victims of landmines or unexploded ordinance (UXO). When one looks back at the “Landmine Monitor”, an annual report published by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), of which AAR Japan is a member, the number of casualties steadily decreases up to a certain point in time.
Since its publication in 1996, sales from AAR Japan’s Anti-Personnel Landmine Removal Campaign picture book “Not Mines, But Flowers” have been used to confirm the safety of 2,652 square meters of minefields.

According to the “Landmine Monitor”, in Afghanistan in 1973, approximately 20-40 people a day were killed or injured by mines or UXOs. This amounts to 7,300 – 14,600 people in a year. Since ICBL started to collect data in 2000, the impact of mine action, such as clearance activities and risk education, has slowly started to become apparent. In 2006, the total casualties for the year had been reduced to 796. While there were some years that were exceptions, the number of victims steadily shifted every year by the hundreds, up until 2011. Of course, this does not change that the number of victims is still large – behind every statistic lies a large amount of pain, sadness, and grief in individual victims.

Behind every number is the story of an individual’s sorrow.  Nader Shah, who works in accounting in AAR Japan’s Kabul office, lost both of his arms and his right eye in a UXO accident near his home when he was 9 years old.
The Reason for the Rise in Casualties
But the number of casualties, which was trending downwards, increased in 2012. According to the latest “Landmine Monitor”, released in November 2018, 2,300 people were reportedly killed or injured in Afghanistan in 2017. Unfortunately, it has to be said that the number of causalities has returned to previous levels. The biggest reason for the increase in casualties are IEDs (Improved Explosive Devices). As the name indicates, the making of these can be improvised, so many are being used.
Improvised Explosive Device (IED). There are bombs set-up within these yellow plastic tanks. (Pictured provided by The HALO TRUST)

In 2017, United Nations Security Council Resolution 2365 was unanimously adopted. It states:
The Security Council…Calls on all parties to armed conflicts to end immediately and definitively any indiscriminate use of explosive devices in violation of international humanitarian law; [and] Urges parties to armed conflicts to protect civilian populations, including children, from the threats posed by landmines, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices and, in this regard, encourages the international community to advocate and support efforts to clear these devices, to provide risk education, and to conduct risk reduction activities, as well as to provide assistance for the care, rehabilitation and economic and social reintegration of victims and persons with disabilities.

Even though this was the case, according to the British International NGO, Action on Armed Violence, the harsh reality is that in the first half of 2018 (January 2018 through June 2018), 2002 civilians in Afghanistan had become victims to explosives. It is reported that 80% of those were from IEDs.

Striving for Zero Landmines

Even now, AAR Japan is continuing activities to help people protect oneself from landmines and UXOs in Afghanistan, including through the use of national radio broadcasts. Since beginning our activities in 2002, 140 volunteer instructors embedded in the region have visited various villages and provided mine risk education to over 900,000 people. However, reducing casualties is no easy feat, and one can struggle to be optimistic.
When that is the case, I look back at Cambodia. Similar to Afghanistan, Cambodia experienced war and there were many victims of landmines and UXOs. With help from the international community, however, Cambodia has been able to drastically reduce the number of victims. Cambodia serves as a symbol of hope for those involved in mine action in Afghanistan.
In 2002, AAR Japan started educating people on how to protect themselves from landmines and UXOs. Since then, over 900,000 people have been trained.
According to “Landmine Monitor 2018”, the number of mine/UXO victims in Cambodia was 1,249 in 1998, but with the mine action work conducted by the government and international aid organizations, that number decreased year-over-year. In 2017, the number of victims had decreased to 58. Cambodia is the country where AAR Japan first began using the profits from “Not Mines, But Flowers” for mine clearance. It is also where we conducted clearing activities with profits from “ZERO LANDMINE”, a CD produced as part of Tokyo Broadcasting System’s (TBS) 50th Anniversary “ZERO Landmine” Campaign spearheaded by composer, Mr. Ryuichi SAKAMOTO, and with public donations from the campaign.
There has also be a similar decrease in Mozambique. There, the number of casualties entered the single digits in 2014, and in 2018, had decreased to seven.
The CD “Zero Landmine” that was produced as part of TBS 50th Anniversary “ZERO Landmine” Campaign.

Landmine Monitor 2018 

Since the fighting in Afghanistan is ongoing, it will likely not yet go like Cambodia or Mozambique where the conflicts have ended. It may take significantly more time and aid to have Afghanistan replicate the process of Cambodia, or even better, Mozambique. That being said, there are things that cannot be resolved without continuing to move forward. AAR Japan will continue to work on mine action in Afghanistan.
Mine clearing work at Afghanistan is on-going even today.
Seiji KONNO, Tokyo Office

For ten months, starting in April 2000, he was on assignment with the mine clearance NGO “HALO Trust”, engaged in UXO/mine clearance work. Afterwards, he oversaw mine action, public awareness training, and emergency aid at AAR Japan until March of 2008. After leaving AAR Japan, became a certified Social Worker and certified Psychiatric Social Worker. After working at an international NGO overseas focused on support for those with disabilities, domestic social welfare, and support for children, he returned to AAR Japan in February 2018. He is from Ibaraki Prefecture.
 (Profile as of the date of the article.)


Japan Western flood: Aiming for Immediate Restoration

After disasters, AAR Japan has mainly prioritized reaching out to the most vulnerable groups who are usually left out without support, such as people with special needs.
After the Western Japan was hit by the recent torrential rain and flooding, AAR Japan helped out with the restoration by providing welfare facilities with daily necessities and other items necessary for their reopening, such as computers and printers.

We are currently working on a restoration project to apply in the affected areas.

Making a progress towards recovery step by step:

“Okayama Mind Kokoro” is an NPO located in Mabi in Kurashiki City, Okayama.  This NPO was aiming to support people with special needs by running care homes, where they can live in comfort, as well as a brewery or a beer hall, where even the disabled can work.  “Okayama Mind Kokoro” believes that they can make Mabi village a comfortable place for everyone by offering space for interacting with each other, regardless of disabilities.  However, when their project was well on its way, the recent floods destroyed the beer hall completely. The ground floors of eight care homes were also completely washed away with all the furniture inside.

Some of the residents in the care homes have found it difficult to adapt to the radical change in the different environment and many of them had to move to shelters where they face many difficulties.  As such, it is very important to get their original care homes re-opened as soon as possible. “Okayama Mind Kokoro” staff cleaned the place as quickly as possible in order for the residents to return. The home was temporarily re-opened on August first and residents who used to stay at a hospital were able to come back. There is a good chance that some companies will donate refrigerators and laundry machines.  However, the brewery and beer halls that the residents found joy in working at are still out of service and the re-opening day is yet to be confirmed. Considering the time necessary for making barley into malt for local beer, we will have to wait for another year if we can’t start it by this autumn.

AAR is considering providing and fixing the necessary equipment for this NPO to help them re-open and proceed with their services.

Mr.Shinji Tada, the representative of Okayama Mind Kokoro expressed his gratitude to the AAR emergency assistance team for delivering supplies and attending to the needs of the residents.  He also expressed his firm determination by saying, “In spite of the harsh reality, we are steadily heading for restoring our facilities.  With your encouraging words, we promise that we will move forward.”
AAR staff Takumi Takagi (on the left) visiting the president of Okayama Mind Kokoro and listening to their needs while delivering oral rehydration solution, rolls of toilet paper and baby diapers to him. (Date:2018/7/24)

“If it happened to me”

Nima Elementary School, located in Kurashiki in Okayama Prefecture, was turned into a shelter. AAR cooperated with NPO Peace Project from July 23rd to 25th to prepare meals for the shelter’s residents for another 3 days (July 28-30).
Before preparing the meals, we spread flyers about this news to the residents and received a lot of positive feedback such as “We have been looking forward to it!”
Despite the weather forecast predicting that the approaching typhoon No.12 might cause some damage, everything went as we had planned. We gave 300 servings of seafood curry on the 28th and 250 servings of rice with grated yam with fish soup, natto, turnips and pickled cucumbers.

A lady in her 80s complained “I am totally worn out just by having to stay in this gymnasium.” Another man in his 60s said to us, “While being engaged in voluntary activities, I sometimes wonder ‘What if such a disaster were to hit me?”
Mr.Kanzaki, the President of the Nima community, spoke about the necessity of support and advice of administration offices and support agencies so that the residents in Mabi can all come back and enjoy their lives the way they used to.

The residents of the shelters have been frustrated because they have been living there for weeks now and still do not know when will they go back home.
Ms.Mari Tanigawa (board of directors member), who used to be a marathon runner, offered a course on marathon for the shelter’s residents. Peace Project also organized a bingo competition in the shelter.
The residents were smiling, after enjoying light sports and recreation events.
Ms. Mari Tanigawa, AAR Japan board of directors’ member, who visited the shelter on July 28 and 29, is preparing meals with a local volunteer and setting the tables. The meals were received favourably and residents lined up every time the meals were prepared. (Date:2018/7/28)
Ms. Tanigawa is warming up the bingo competition (in the middle). On the left is Mr. Ben Kato the representative of Peace Project and also a member of AAR board of directors. (Date:2018/7/29)

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Sudan: Grappling with Mycetoma, an Infectious Disease Still Unfamiliar to the World Population

Mycetoma is an infectious disease and is one of the tough issues that Sudan is tackling currently. An  staff member of AAR’s Sudan Office, Ryohma Yamagishi, reports the latest on this challenges presented by Mycetoma, including AAR’s efforts and activities to cope with this lingering illness.

Causes and infection routes still unidentified
Mycetoma is an infectious disease whose peculiar variety of germs exist in the soil and pass on to humans through abrasions of hands and feet, and start affecting muscles and bones. It triggers inflammation within the body at first, and the affected area grows gradually larger over some a period of time. In the later stages of Mycetoma, when the inflammation gets rather widespread, sufferers not only find it difficult to manage their daily lives but also come to be bothered by acute pain when the infection reaches as far as the bone. In the worst cases, the victim could ultimately lose his or her life.
In the earlier stages where patients have not yet suffered serious damage, they can be cured of this illness with the help of appropriate medical treatments including medication. When the illness progresses to a critical condition, however, they might unfortunately have no choice but to have their limbs amputated. The biggest concern about Mycetoma is that what causes the conditions mentioned above and how the infected person contracted the illness have not been fully identified yet.

A boy, who underwent an operation on his hand which had been infected with Mycetoma, being attended to by his mother. Andalus village of the White Nile State  (November 16, 2017)

Sudan has suffered from a particularly high morbidity rate of this persistent and progressive disease, Mycetoma. This has allowed Sudan, however, to become one of the best-prepared nations in the world with measures against its Mycetoma infections. Despite the prevalence of the disease in Sudan, Mycetoma has not yet become a disease widely familiar among the Sudanese, meaning that the affected sometimes end up  being given inappropriate medical treatments. Those infected also experience discrimination in their community.
Putting all these factors into consideration, AAR Japan launched substantial supports to Sudan in 2013 and started to provide preventive measures against Mycetoma as well as medical treatments to cure those infected with this illness.

Visiting door-to-door to provide knowledge and information to local people
AAR Japan has provided, mostly within and around Andalus Village of the State of White Nile, activities to let people acquire greater knowledge about Mycetoma, to allow them to understand the significance of securing the earliest possible opportunities of getting medical treatments. These activities also include preventive measures against this disease and have allowed seriously ill patients with advanced infections to undergo medical procedures.

During the three days’ campaign and activities in which I took part in November 2017, we transmitted the knowledge about Mycetoma to 1,726 villagers in total and provided opportunities to have surgery for 35 of the affected locals in the area.
As to the knowledge about Mycetoma, AAR’s staff members paid visits to individual houses and community spaces in this area and provided villagers with detailed explanation with the help of visual aids.

Most of the cases related to Mycetoma infections have been reported in economically underdeveloped areas of Sudan. Andalus Village, where we performed our mission, is also located in such an area. While it might sound steady but too slow a procedure that we visited houses one by one and explained things in detail to locals at each household, but we regarded it as the most efficient working method to meet and talk to residents in person, owing to a lack of mass media such as TV sets, radios or newspapers available in the village. The AAR Japan team thought that the above-mentioned method would enable us to convey information and knowledge to a good number of residents at once without giving misleading contents or creating any misunderstanding among them.
We found that only a few locals had known Mycetoma and all those who participated in our activities were well-focused enough to receptively listen to our presentation during the campaign. I felt that all of them assumed the kind of positive attitude enabling them to absorb as much of the new information as possible, as they felt that the information and knowledge previously available to them had been quite limited.

Our key message for locals has gradually spread among more and more of the residents via human routes over time.

Enlightening activity at a local elementary school in an effort to transmit facts and knowledge about Mycetoma to pupils, while Ryohma Yamagishi standing still and alert behind the lecturer.
Andalus village White Nile State (November 18, 2017 )

While one of the AAR’s staff members was talking about Mycetoma in the presence of residents one day, he found a mother who already possessed a very solid knowledge of the conditions related to this disease. When he asked her where she had acquired that knowledge and information, as he hadn’t expected such a case, she said that her child had once heard another AAR staff member’s presentation about Mycetoma and shared the information he learned. This episode has impressed me greatly and provides evidence that the facts and knowledge about Mycetoma that AAR prepared for locals have steadily taken root among villagers.

Surgeries were provided to patients for free by doctors whom we had dispatched from Khartoum, capital city of Sudan.
It remains difficult to prevent the infection of Mycetoma due to reasons such as insufficient transmission of knowledge and information about this disease, and also a lack of a solid medical system that can fully cope with this issue. It will continue to be essential for the villagers to have access to medical treatments after their initial infection, including immediate care for the affected parts of their body. Especially in the case where the infection has grown larger as the disease itself develops, it must be removed completely through surgery.
Additionally, Mycetoma is not yet well known even among doctors in Sudan and medical operations are a possible choice for the affected only in designated hospitals in the capital city of Khartoum. Andalus village is situated far away from the capital city, which might force the patients to stay there for several days when they seek after medical treatments. Very few villagers can come up with the travel  or accommodation funds required for their long journey to the capital. Also, only a few people can leave home and their daily housework chores behind them, or take days off from their occupations (mainly agricultural fields and dairy farms), which leads to the frequent case where they give up opportunities of getting medical treatment after having been infected with Mycetoma, in which ultimately leads to them being in serious condition.

AAR had doctors and medical staffers dispatched from Khartoum and provided surgeries for nothing to cope with Mycetoma. Andalus Village of White Nile State (November 16, 2017)

To assist with this, AAR dispatched to Andalus Village doctors and medical staffers who had treated patients infected with Mycetoma and had them perform surgery for free to the patients. Those who had been seriously ill enough to need surgery seemed to have put many uneasy days behind them, as after the surgery, many of them had a very serene and bright expression on their faces despite some lingering pain from their operation, which fact very much attracted our attention.
In the case of an eighteen-year-old youth who underwent the surgery, he developed Mycetoma around the age of 10 and lately suffered from acute pain, which deprived him of sound sleep. After the operation, he said that he was able to have a good sleep for the first time in ages and was also able to find the food prepared for him palatable and delicious.
He told us that there were still many more people possibly suffering from untreated Mycetoma in his neighborhood and he would be sure to advise them to seek professional care and treatments at medical institutions. 

A youth who had been infected by Mycetoma said, “Thanks to the surgery, I have been able to have enough sound sleep for the first time in ages and also been able to find meals prepared for me to be palatable and delicious.”
Andalus Village, White Nile State (November 16, 2017)

We have provided various activities in an effort to realize our supportive mission to visit areas dealing with the issue of Mycetoma, and probed the status  of locals’ lives individually so as to the identify complex factors with which they were facing. They were leading everyday lives with thr painful idea that they might continue to be exposed to a risk of developing Mycetoma at any time in their daily environment.

The efforts of our group and individual meetings with those living with a pressing risk of developing Mycetoma in their daily lives have enabled us to better understand how uneasy they have been feeling for lack of information. We further understand how anxious they have come to feel when finding themselves without opportunities for surgery despite their earnest wishes for medical treatment.
Our rescue efforts could be translated as slow but steady, for we have provided the scheme in which we try to stay closely attuned to individual circumstances of villagers. Seeing the results of our work, I feel that such laborious efforts have been sufficiently rewarded.

Children in the village with notebooks in their hands, which AAR has distributed and that contain information and knowledge about Mycetoma.
Andalus Village( November 17, 2017)
Ryohma YAMAGISHIAAR Japan Sudan Office
Ryohma YAMAGISHI has worked at AAR Japan Sudan Office since July 2017.
At a college, he majored in social development and international law.
Working for the Japanese Red Cross Society, he carried out a research on peace formation at a graduate school. After working for the Japanese Embassy in Bosnia as a research specialist, he has joined AAR Japan.
He is from Kyoto Prefecture.
(Profile as of the date of the article)