Clearance of Shah Anjir Village, Balkh Province

Shah Anjir Village is located in Chahar Kint District, Balkh Province. Chahar Kint is ethnically diverse, however Shah Anjir is predominately Hazara with smaller numbers of Tajiks and Uzbeks. The residents of Shah Anjir rely primarily on agriculture and livestock to meet their subsistence requirements. This includes the cultivation of cereals such as Lalmi (rainfed) wheat on the available arable land, as well as the grazing of sheep and goats. The presence of mines and ERW in the surrounding area severely limited the local community's ability to maximize their agricultural output, and posed a constant threat to the safety of their livestock, the loss of which would be a serious blow to the household economy of the owner.

Control over Shah Anjir Village, as well as the valley in which it sits, was being fought over by two Mujahidin groups, Hizb-e Wahdat and Harakat-e Islami. Both groups comprised of Shia Hazara, and together formed part of an alliance of Mujahidin groups known as the Tehran Eight, due to their support from Iran, who fought against the occupying Soviet forces. This support was not only ideological and political, but also material, as Iran provided these groups with arms and other supplies. This included the supply of thousands of Iranian anti-personnel mines, consisting of both YM-1 and No.4 models, which were used not only against Soviet forces, but also against each other during the subsequent civil war.  In this particular area, the No.4 anti-personnel mine was laid extensively, often on the slopes of high ground, in order to deny strategic firing points to enemy forces.

Accidents

Since mines were laid in 1994, there have been six recorded accidents involving animals. Many families in this area are particularly dependent on livestock in order to sustain their livelihoods, therefore the loss of even one animal can have a seriously detrimental effect on their household income. In addition to this, livestock are often used as emergency capital in the event of sudden unexpected costs, such as medical treatment of a family member. The loss of livestock to a mine or ERW accident can therefore remove a family's safety net, leaving them with very little ability to mitigate risk.

Humanitarian Impact of Mines at Shah Anjir Village

As stated, the rural community present in Shah Anjir Village rely on agriculture and livestock to survive. The presence of mines and ERW on land suitable for both cultivating crops and grazing livestock prevents the community from putting these into productive use, thereby limiting agricultural output as well as the number of animals which can be kept by families. According to the World Food Programme (WFP) the monthly average price of wheat grain in main urban cities during December 2014 had increased by 25.8% compared to the average price taken during the same month over the last five years. This significant increase in market price has perhaps the most dramatic effect on those who depend on livestock for their main source of income. The average amount of wheat which can be purchased through the sale of a one year old sheep during December 2014 was 20.3% less than the amount recorded during the same month two years before.

Livestock, and the shepherds who care for them are particular risk from mines and ERW, as they are forced to graze on the higher ground whilst the lower, more fertile lands are reserved for growing cereals. It is no coincidence that during 2014, Afghan boys below the age of 14 accounted for 49% of all mine and ERW casualties across the country. This reflects the common role given to young males in the rural areas, who are often responsible for looking after the family's livestock. The result of this is that these boys spend much of their time travelling through grazing land, often in the most mine and ERW contaminated areas such as high ground and on valley slopes.

In addition to grazing livestock, villagers are often required to forage for food and firewood. The demand for firewood increases dramatically in the winter, as families are faced with little choice but to collect all they can in order to survive the sub-zero temperatures. Much of this firewood is found in areas contaminated by mines and ERW, and therefore members of the community are forced to choose potentially the lesser of two evils and travel onto unsafe ground in order to make sure they have a sufficient reserve of firewood to keep their families warm during the winter months.

A common issue affecting remote rural communities is a lack of social and infrastructural development, with limited access to roads and markets. This problem is particularly acute in provinces like Takhar, where the winter climate will often make travel impossible and therefore communities such as those in Shah Anjir Village can become even more isolated and marginalised. The ability for farmers to increase cereal production goes some way to strengthening their family's livelihoods, however with little access to distribution networks and transport links, rural communities will continue to struggle to increase their household income. This is why investment by Afghan government authorities as well as non-governmental organisations in the form of infrastructure development is incredibly important. The stigma associated attached to mine and ERW impacted communities often prevents the implementation of such projects, and therefore the clearance of these contaminated areas permanently removes this barrier to development.

Clearance

With funding from the German Federal Foreign Office, HALO manual teams began clearance in July 2014 and completed the task in November 2014. In the process, HALO teams cleared a total of 188,327 sqm and safely located and destroyed 122 anti-personnel mines and five items of UXO. This achievement highlights the hard work and dedication of the manual teams who, despite the operational issues which the deminers faced whilst conducting clearance such as steep terrain and high metal contamination, maintained high productivity levels and completed clearance of both tasks before the end of the contract period.

The direct outcome of clearing these two tasks near Shah Anjir Village was the immediate reduction of both human and livestock accidents to zero on this previously contaminated ground. In addition to this, farmers have been able to utilise the newly cleared land for the cultivation of cereal crops such as wheat thereby strengthening their families' livelihood. For the first time in two decades, children are able to forage in these areas without fear of injury or death as a result of mines and ERW. No longer are parents plagued with having to make the choice between walking on contaminated ground and not having enough firewood to keep their children warm during the harsh winter.

However the potential benefits of clearance in the longer term include the future development of infrastructure leading to greater access to markets, schools and medical facilities. Now that the stigma associated with mine and ERW impacted communities has been permanently removed, it is hoped that the Afghan government authorities as well as non-governmental organisations, both national and international, will consider this area as a potential site for the implementation of development projects. The result of this would be an end to the marginalisation of Shah Anjir Village and an improvement in the lives of all its inhabitants.

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