Photo: UNMASS Afghanistan

UNICEF to Educate Millions in Afghanistan on the Risk of Explosive Ordnance

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Afghanistan says it will educate 3.6 million people, including children, about the dangers of war-related explosive ordnance this year.

In a statement on Tuesday, January 30, the UN agency highlighted that Afghanistan is one of the most weapons-contaminated countries in the world. According to UNICEF, the program aims to educate people on preventing injuries and deaths from explosive remnants of war.

Affected by decades of conflict and violence, especially the Taliban insurgency over the last two decades, Afghanistan remains one of the world’s most contaminated places with remnants of war, mostly landmines and unexploded ordnance.

According to  the UN report, two-thirds of Afghanistan’s 401 districts are affected by explosives, and approximately 3 million people reside within a 1km radius of mines, improvised explosive devices, and other remnants of war. The report said unexploded ordnance also pose mental and psychological risks arising from fear, and they limit safe access to livelihoods and income that aggravate families’ distress. Households dependent on agriculture-based livelihoods, including farmers, shepherds and herders, are particularly at risk of the threat posed by explosive hazards.

According to The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Afghanistan (OCHA), the country has one of the highest levels of explosive ordnance exposure in the world. almost 57,000 civilians have been either dead or wounded by landmines and explosive remnants of war since 1989.

UNICEF says that children make up about 85% of the casualties due to war-related explosive ordnance in Afghanistan. “In 2022, more than 700 children were killed or maimed because of unexploded ordinances and war remnants. An average of two children every day!” the UN agency said about the death toll caused by these explosives.

Last year, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that at least 640 children were killed or injured in 541 incidents involving explosive remnants of war and landmine explosions in Afghanistan between January 2022 and June 2023.

“Children have been particularly vulnerable to fatal or life-changing injuries as they unintentionally step on landmines or pick up unexploded ordnance littered around the places they stay, play or do household chores.”

Last year in October, Landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) reportedly have killed at least six children in the northern provinces of Jowzjan and Faryab. A month earlier, in Faryab province’s Gurziwan district, two teenagers lost their lives to a landmine explosion. Local source said that the boys were shepherds and were guiding their herd to the pasture when they accidentally stepped on the mine. 

According to a UN report, since 1989, demining organizations in Afghanistan have cleared over 3,000 square kilometers, encompassing 34,037 hazardous areas.  

The Taliban takeover and the group’s string of bans on women and girls have caused many donor states and organizations to shut their activities and withdraw their funding. ICRC says that the funding shortfall has affected landmine clearance efforts in the country. “The dramatic drop in resources and funding had an equally dramatic impact on efforts to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance,” ICRC asserted.

Last year, OCHA appealed for $18.3 million for surveys, explosive ordnance disposal, landmine clearance, and risk education across the country.