Islamist militants have left Mali's famous city of Timbuktu, but civilians are still in grave danger.
Unexploded bombs scattered around the city, and weapons abandoned by the fighters pose a major threat to locals. Handicap International teams remained in Timbuktu after the city was captured in April 2012, and are currently going door-to-door to warn people of the risks these weapons and unexploded ordnance pose.
“All of the city's inhabitants, and those expected to return over the coming weeks, must be alerted to the dangers posed by the weapons they are going to come across,” says Marc Vaernewyck, Handicap International's program director in Bamako, Mali. “Just yesterday, we received reports of a child in the town of Konna, Mali, who was killed in an explosion after throwing stones at a bomb he found. Last year alone, we recorded more than 50 accidents of this type, most of which involved children.
“Make no mistake about it: securing the area and protecting the local population over the coming months is a tall order. The risk education launched by Handicap International in Timbuktu and other towns must continue and on a much larger scale.”
Handicap International has been educating people in northern Mali about the risks of conventional weapons and UXO since the summer. Awareness-raising sessions have been organized in schools and camps for displaced people around the central city of Mopti. In northern Mali, key community representatives in major towns and cities are helping to remind people of the need to remain vigilant.
Handicap International will soon begin weapons clearance. In order to secure and neutralize these weapons, teams are assessing the affected regions, including Diabaly and Mopti. Clearance of other UXO will happen in coordination with other operators present in the field.
Handicap International is the world's leading mine action organization, engaged in mine clearance, victim assistance, risk education, advocacy and weapons management in more than 40 countries since 1992.
Read Marc Vaernewyck's recent blog in the Huffington Post.