BAKU: Mine risk to be taught in schools

Mine risk to be taught in schools
by Zulfugar Agayev (Staff Writer)

Baku Sun, Azerbaijan
May 14 2004

Nazim Ismailov, director of ANAMA,
explains details of the Mine
Risk Education Project.
(Sun photo by Jeyhun Abdulla)font>

BAKU — Secondary school students in Azerbaijan’s frontline districts
are going to have special classes on landmines and unexploded
ordnance (UXO) starting this fall under an agreement signed Tuesday
by the Ministry of Education, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
and the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA).

The agreement gave the go ahead for the Mine Risk Education Project,
which a top ANAMA official says considers the inclusion of mine
education classes into the curriculum of secondary schools, a venture
the first of its kind in the world. The $70,000 UNICEF-funded project
is planned to continue for at least ten years.

“World practice has shown that it is almost impossible to completely
clear areas from landmines and other unexploded ordnance in a short
period,” says Nazim Ismailov, director of ANAMA. “It requires a long
time, which is why educating people about the risks of these kind of
dangerous explosives constitutes a priority now.”

Landmines, planted during and in the wake of 1991–94 Karabakh war
between Armenia and Azerbaijan, are posing a threat to the lives of
an estimated 514,000 Azeris living near the frontline, which
separates Azerbaijan from its occupied territories and also from

Armenian troops invaded Azerbaijan’s mainly ethnic-Armenian populated
region of Nagorno (Daghlig)-Karabakh and seven administrative
districts during the war, forcing over 700,000 civilians from their
homes. The territories remaining out of Baku’s control make up 20
percent of the nation’s total area.

Although no final solution has been found to the conflict in the ten
years following the cease-fire agreement signed in May 1994, ANAMA
has been engaged in clearing away the frontline areas from mines and
educating locals since 1998, when the organization was founded. The
agency is mainly funded by international donors whose subsidiaries
make up for 85 percent of its budget, with the Azerbaijani government
covering the remaining funds.

Ismailov says that a group of ANAMA experts have been working for the
past three years to educate people in frontline districts about the
risks of unexploded mines. However, he explains, since their work is
not systematic, it hasn’t been giving the desired results. According
to ANAMA, the number of those killed and injured by landmines and
other UXO keeps growing every year. For example, 14 civilians died
and another 14 were injured by mine blasts in 2003. Landmines took
the lives of six people and maimed another six during the first five
months of this year. Mostly middle-aged people are affected by mines,
with children constituting 16 percent of the victims.

ANAMA’s press officer, Shirin Rzayeva, said that a total of 1,274
Azerbaijanis fell victim to mines and other UXO from 1990 to 1
January 2004. Approximately 75 percent of them were injured and 25
percent died, she added.

According to the Mine Risk Education Project, ANAMA along with the
Ministry of Education plans to select and train 500 instructors
during August and September. The instructors will then be sent to
secondary schools in frontline districts to teach schoolchildren.

“Mine education is really a serious task,” says Ismailov. “You have
to talk to children in one way and to adults in a completely
different one.”

Ismailov said that a joint group of experts from ANAMA and the
Ministry of Education are working out methods to best present the
classes to students. They are planning to use special films and also
hold different competitions among the students in order to increase
their interest in the classes, he added.

Ismailov added that fatal mine incidents indicate that people living
in high-risk areas near the frontline do not seriously heed the mine
warning signs that have been set up.

“They tend to ignore the signs, saying that if something is going to
happen to them, nothing can prevent it as it will be a part of their
destiny. But they have to realize one thing; you may walk near a
landmine a hundred times without hitting it, but you will certainly
walk on the mine one time if you keep using that area.”

Ismailov says that cleaning areas from landmines is a very costly
job. In Azerbaijan, it costs $1 to clear one square meter area, and
the cost is even higher in other countries, he adds.

Last year ANAMA cleared over 3 million square meters of area from
mines. The agency is planning to clean 7 million square meters this

Taking into account the mentioned figures, Ismailov seems optimistic
that the territories under Armenian occupation will be easily cleared
from mines after a final settlement is found to the conflict.

He says there are some 350,000-500,000 square meters of area that
needs to be cleared from an estimated 50,000-100,000 landmines in the
occupied territories.

These are mainly the frontline areas that now separate the two troops
and also some strategic places, such as water wells, bridges, etc, he

The only problem is that, as the ANAMA director explains, since there
were no regular armies on either side of the conflict during the
early stages of war, it will be difficult to find maps of mined areas
if the maps exist at all.