BY ADROUSHAN ANDY ARMENIAN
On Wednesday, October 21, I met with Brad Tirpak, a member of the HALO Trust Board of Trustees; Chris Whatley, Executive Director of HALO Trust USA; and Diana Tatili, Head of Development and Communications of HALO Trust USA.
The HALO Trust is a British-American charitable organization that has operations in 25 countries around the world clearing landmines and explosives. Since 2000 the HALO Trust has been operating in Nagorno Karabakh, Artsakh, and through their international trainers and explosive ordnance disposal teams, HALO has trained over 200 local Armenian technicians to help clear minefields.
During this period more than 500 minefields, containing tens of thousands of explosives have been cleared, making it safe for the villagers to return to their fields and restore their livelihoods.
Our discussion focused on the current devastating war and an immediate challenge of how to clear cluster bombs in the city of Stepanakert and surrounding towns and villages.
The use of cluster bombs in any circumstances is banned under international humanitarian law, however Stepanakert has been under near-constant shelling for weeks and unexploded shells, rockets and bombs remain a hazard. Cluster bombs, dropped by air or fired by artillery, open in mid-air to release hundreds of smaller bomblets across a wide area up to the size of several football fields. Around 20% of the bomblets intentionally do not explode mid-air and land on the ground potentially killing and maiming civilians long after conflicts end. These bomblets pose a particular risk to children who can be attracted by their toy-like appearance and bright colors.
Currently HALO staff in Artsakh is visiting as many bunkers and shelters as possible to hand out leaflets and explain to stay clear of unexploded cluster bombs.
Due to the enormous amount of unexploded bombs, HALO Trust is gearing up to recruit around 100 new technicians who will undergo a three week training program, and be ready to start the clearing task once it is safe to do so.
The HALO trust estimates a $4 million budget for the next 12 months to carry out the cleaning operations in Artsakh. Unfortunately, government funding is not immediately available, and it might take 4-6 months until new grants are made available. Therefore, HALO Trust is reaching out to individual donors to specifically donate to Artsakh’s clearing activities so they could start their operations as soon as possible.
Also note that an anonymous non-Armenian donor has pledged to double any donation to Artsakh. So, all donations will be matched!
Explosives are in Stepanakert streets. Please help save lives in Artsakh by donating to the HALO Trust in support of their humanitarian efforts.