By: Adnan Qureshi
Kashmir has been the epicenter of conflict between India & Pakistan since the line of partition was drawn in 1947. Historically there have been four wars between two neighbouring nations. The most recent of these wars saw over thirty thousand soldiers and civilians being killed. Besides these wars, both nuclear nations have been continuously at low-level conflict, with skirmishes breaking out regularly.
In recent years ground operations have seen attacks on civilians and soldiers by both countries’ forces. Explosive weapons, including grenades, mortars and other forms of shelling have caused causalities on both sides. Additionally, the drifted land mines are adversely affecting the civilians along the line of control. Moreover, there have been over one thousand death and injuries from explosive weapons on both sides of Kashmir (Indian & Pakistani administered areas) according to Action on Armed Violence (AOVA). Furthermore, the majority of civilian causalities (88%) have been caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, such as villages, schools, hospitals, and residential areas. Beyond the immediate harm, the explosive violence has also been responsible for significant damage to civilian infrastructure and the destruction and fear caused has had palpable impacts on civilian life, particularly for children.
Shelling along the line of control has also caused major disruptions in educational institutions. This has led to the closure of schools and deprived the population of access to necessary goods & services such as clean water, firewood, farmland and health care education and livelihood, and critical infrastructures. On the other hand, it impedes relief work, deprives people of humanitarian aid, and aggravates humanitarian problems.
Similarly, land mines are a serious menace along the line of control that has not been demined yet. People from different villages have fallen victim to mines usually treading on them while collecting firewood, gathering guchee (wild mushroom), and cutting grass for the cattle. Children have also been struck by toy bombs. Officially, 42 landmine victims have been reported from the two villages of Neelum (Rawta and Bugna) which reflects the exposure to the problem. Besides, risky behaviour and culture of a local community is also a threat to their lives, for instance grass cutting, collecting mushrooms, and fetching water from bank and nullas, collecting sand without having prior knowledge about land mines and explosives is a direct threat to their lives. Hence, a regular follow up for raising awareness is a requirement by keeping in view the prevailing threats of explosives and unpredictable security constraints in the region.
The lack of awareness and knowledge about the dangers of landmines and other explosive ordinances combined with the lack of information about the various types of improvised devices used and their locations further compound the problem.
The Pakistan Red Crescent Society AJK had started Community Based Risk Awareness & Safe Behaviour Program In October 2010 in the most affected districts of AJK along the Line of Control (LoC) specifically Muzaffarabad, Neelum & Poonch. Later on, its scope was extended to districts Bhimber, Kotli and Haveli districts. The main objective of this program is to aware the communities residing along LoC on landmines, UXOs, IEDs, and ERs to reduce the incidents and minimize the loss of precious lives. From 2011 to date more than 250,000 people were sensitized about Risk Awareness & Safer Behaviour sessions in the 06 districts of AJ&K, whereas the incident reporting and referral process to MPRC through referral process have also been carried out within the given timeframe. Victims of landmines are treated free of cost at the Muzaffarabad Physical Rehabilitation Centre (MPRC) and Chall Foundation Bagh. However, there is not much information about the Centres in remote villages infested with landmines which the PRCS CBRA-SB teams are referring survivors for physical rehabilitation from 2011 to onward. The Pakistan Red Crescent Society teams of the RASB Program are also organizing sessions at schools and villages to raise awareness and avert landmine incidents in six districts of AJK along the Line of Control (LoC).
As a consequence, the number of incidents have been reduced and the majority of the population is now aware of the Risk through Information, Education & Communication Material (IEC) sign boards, events, orientations sessions, seminars, awareness walks, editorials, awareness sessions in villages and schools, FM radio channels, SCOM messages and collaboration of stakeholders in RA-SB Program through MOUs/LOUs.
Consequentially, the continuous and coherent efforts of Pakistan Red Crescent Society in partnership with International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) with regard to raise awareness on explosives along LOC, vulnerable communities are being able to report to concerned authorities about the presence of any drifted explosives in their respective areas.
Pakistan Red Crescent Society AJK State Branch through its Risk Awareness Safer Behaviour program with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has recently signed tripartite MOUs with the Civil Defence AJK and Education department to expedite the level of delivery through capacity building of Bomb Disposal (BD) staff of Civil Defence and teachers in schools along LOC. However, the survivors and other persons with disabilities seek attention to have some extraordinary activities in the region in this context.
By: Adnan Qureshi