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RISK EDUCATION VITAL FOR PUBLIC LIFE.

Byline: TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI

Mine risk education is not usually heard in Pakistan in spite of the fact that landmines still pose sobering threats to the life of people living in mainly conflict-ridden communities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

As the name implies mine risk education, or shortly called MRE, is aimed at to familiarize people in the province and adjoining tribal areas with the ways that can save them from the dangers of mines and cluster bombs.

As a matter of fact, rural people living in antiquity in federally administered tribal areas (FATA), provincially administered tribal areas (PATA), and rural settlements do not have sufficient information about landmines or cluster bombs. Especially, children and females are the vulnerable segments besides security personnel.

More than a hundred people lose lives or limbs in mine explosion every year in Pakistan.

There is no official record available, but a conservative estimate by the sustainable peace and development organization (Spado) had once put the total number of mines in Pakistan at over six million.

Spado is a Peshawar-based non-profit organization working to promote public awareness about threats of landmines, stop trade of illicit arms, and lobby for strict laws against such menaces. The organization is a member of international campaign to ban landmines (ICBL) and cluster munition coalition (CMC).

MRE PROJECT 2011

In its recently finished risk education project, the NGO has imparted education and training to internally displaced persons (IDPs) hailing from Orakzai, Khurram Agency of Fata, and South Waziristan and living in Kohat, Hangu, D.I. Khan, and Tank.

The IDPs were given information about dangers of mines, unexploded ordnances (UXOs), booby traps, and fuses, areas that are likely to have mines, traces of explosive materials, and other safety measures in sessions carried from February to November 2011.

Based on the quantitative research, it selected 142,392 individuals (106,308 children and 36,084 adults) for training and 4,207 training sessions were conducted in the selected areas, according to the Spado's MRE final report 2011. Total 140 community focal points were hired and trained for this purpose. Local trainers filled the communication gap and educated children, females, and adults more effectively.

The formal, informal and follow-up sessions were held for children and adults in schools, open spaces, fields, camps, child protection centres, refugee camps, madrassas, masjids, workplaces etc. and at homes.

Unquestionably, the NGO is doing a wonderful job. Increasing supports from and coordination with the security and law enforcement agencies will further enhance the capabilities of field staff to broaden MRE coverage to other localities in North Waziristan.

Deteriorating security environment puts the lives of NGO workers in danger while they visit risky areas. They sometimes remain unaware of untoward incidents or arising security risks in locations where they are working.

The field officers are asked by the local administrations in Hangu and Kohat to wind up field activities by 3:00 PM. Kohat and Hangu are the most conflict-affected communities in KPK.

IMPLICATIONS

While victims of mine explosions have to endure miseries on many fronts, Pakistan has to face the economic fallouts of landmines laid in several known and unknown locations in tribal areas and Pak-Afghan border.

Landmines slow down the repatriation of refugees or displaced people as obviously the administrations cannot put the lives of people at risk knowingly. Pakistan is the host country of millions of Afghan refugees. According to United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), there are 1.7 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan at present while approximately 3.6 million have left the country so far. While the deadline of voluntary registration for repatriation of 31st December 2012 under an agreement is near, Afghan government reportedly requested the government of Pakistan to hold migrations owing to the former's inability to settle the diasporas.

ILLEGAL ARMS and LAW AND ORDER

In addition to mine risk education, Spado also fosters culture of peace and ammunition-less society. It convinces local communities to avoid keeping in possession arms and ammunitions. Arms-holding is a commonplace in tribal areas and even urban settlements. Apart from militarization, this weapon culture adds violence to feuds. High prevalence of small arms and light weapons break into law and order problems more often.

According to a report by the ministry of interior, there were three million AK-47 (commonly known as Kalashnikovs) and its several derivatives in circulation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. These were the figures known to the government. Unofficial statistics are beyond that figure.

The presence of light and heavy weapons is attributed to the Afghan war. However, home-based weapons manufacturing is common in tribal belts. Darra Adamkhel is infamous for having one of the world's largest weapons manufacturing industry.

US has also directly or indirectly supported the proliferation of guns culture in Pakistan.

During the Soviet Union's war, 50 to 60 truckloads of US weapons passed through Pakistan's roads and 70 per cent of those supplies were dumped in the country, said a report quoting a small arms survey by graduate institute of international studies.

Mainly from KPK and adjoining tribal areas, these ammunitions found their ways in other cities nationwide. Illegal arms are cheap and easily available with all the successive governments to have taken no concrete legal actions to control the militarisation of the country. Violence is a consequence. The country's financial and industrial hub Karachi is adversely affected by this unabated proliferation of arms. Street crimes are on the rise with robbers knocking down people very commonly.

Within half of this year, more than 1,000 people have lost lives to target killing this year, according to human rights commission of Pakistan.

Risk education is vital at this critical juncture when law and order is getting out of control each passing day. It is the state's responsibility to enforce laws to save people from the dangers of militarization.
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Publication:Pakistan & Gulf Economist
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jan 1, 2012
Words:966
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