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Women at work in Missan, Iraq

In spite of worrying developments in Northern Iraq, with ISIL gaining ground and announcing their own Islamic state, Norwegian People’s Aid’s mine clearance operation in Southern Iraq continues. Local women are an important part of the staff.

One of the main strategies of NPA is to encourage women to get involved in mine action, as their participation represents an important addition to support and develop our programs for the benefit of the whole society. Three women have been recruited to our operational program in Missan, working side by side with the impact assessment team and community liaison.

After being trained by the technical adviser Amer Musanovic for one month, Hayat Qasem (33 years), Maryam Shnan (30 years), and Luma Majeed (24 years) were ready to accompany operational teams to visit various areas and villages around Amara Province. In these visits, their tasks include asking women in the village about the dangerous areas and the problems they are facing due to the presence of war remnants.   

Both Hayat and Maryam talk eagerly about the nature of their work. They head early morning to the operational compound, from which they start their daily humanitarian mission in helping the residents of these remote villages. The gathered information is organized and recorded according to the forms of specific questions. The specific questions include, for example, are there any injuries? How many injuries and the nature of injuries? Are there any cancer cases among the village residents?  They also ask questions related to the number of houses in the village, the date of their construction and the location of the closest health centre. After the gathering and classifying this information, it will be given to the team leader to be discussed and entered into NPA’s database.

While Luma works in the community liaison team, she visits the villages and talks to the children and women in their homes, carrying posters and various forms in order to collect information and educate people to be careful of these remnants. She also visits the schools of the province, especially those in the remote villages, to talk to the children and staff and tell them to be careful and aware of foreign objects they may encounter on their way to schools.

The three women said that they are committed to this difficult profession despite the long distance they travel and the long working hours. They report that they are very happy to get this opportunity, as it has helped them to improve their financial situation and has enhanced their experience in this field. In addition they consider it as a humanitarian service to their community. 

NPA first started mine clearance in Iraq in 2003. An emergency Mine Action program in Baghdad lasted one year and removed more than 146.000 unexploded ordinances. In 2010, NPA returned to Iraq and established its consultancy and support program for RMACS in Basra.    

In 2012, NPA was able to secure sufficient funding to add an operational component of the programme and decided to focus their clearance efforts on Missan province. This is due to a number of factors such as the high level of contamination due to internal conflicts, the Iraq- Iran war 1980 – 1988, the first gulf war 1991, and the continuous conflict since the 2003 invasion by coalition forces till present day. There are 6.000 victims of mines and unexploded ordinance in Missan province. There has been no humanitarian clearance operation in Missan before.

Mines and war remnants continue to kill or injure civilians. They not only represent a risk to human security, but are also blocking investments worth millions of dollars and preventing people from reaching their agricultural lands. However, NPA is looking forward to eliminating this problem relying upon the collective and great efforts of its women and men.

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03.07.2014 | Maha Yassin