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.