"When people return to areas where fighting has taken place, there are dangers lurking everywhere"
Handicap International is stepping up its operations in Libya to ensure that civilians are safe as they begin to return home. In the next few weeks, teams will begin clearing land that rebels and forces loyal to the late Colonel Gaddafi have littered with unexploded remnants of war (shells, munitions, rockets, etc.) and mines -- objects that pose serious health risks to the local population.
“It's vital to start the clearance operations immediately,” explains Frédéric Maio, manager of Handicap International's operations in Libya. “After the fighting ends, the first thing people want to do is return home. But when people return to areas where fighting has taken place, there are dangers lurking everywhere. Many civilians unwittingly put themselves at risk.”
Two teams will be deployed to Libya. Each consists of one expatriate staff member responsible for managing and training six Libyans, as well as one health team member. Their work will primarily focus on the Tripoli districts affected by fighting to identify the worst areas, and to remove and destroy mines and explosive remnants of war, if necessary.
This intervention is expected to last at least until April 2012. It is part of a mission being run by a demining specialist who arrived in Libya in September to assess local demining needs and to provide estimates for contaminated areas. This specialist is working in close cooperation with the authorities and other stakeholders in the field.
The organization has been active in the north African country for six months. Accident prevention programs targeted at civilians began in April 2011, when rebels and forces loyal to the late Colonel Gaddafi were still fighting. This work has been primarily in the east of the country and, more recently, in Misrata, a city that was badly affected by clashes between rebels and forces loyal to Gaddafi. Risk education information on mines, unexploded remnants of war, small arms and light weapons has been distributed in the city and as far as the border with Tunisia. As soon as hostilities ended in Beni Whalid, a Handicap International team travelled to the area to distribute awareness information. An initial assessment mission was also launched this week in Syrte, where fighting continues.
Handicap International now relies on a team of 20 people, soon to include six expatriate staff, and around 100 volunteers trained to organize awareness-raising sessions. The organization has also been running an armed violence reduction project in Libya since September in Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Misrata, and other areas.