Last year, NPA cleared the land of Ayada Tablan in al-Khasfa village in the Haditha district of Anbar Governorate, Iraq.
By Ayah Ridha, Marijn van Broekhoven
Ayada and his wife Fatima have five children, three girls and two boys, between the ages of three and nine years old. In 2014, Ayada and his family had to flee the village in the middle of the night, leaving all their belongings behind, when fighting broke out and ISIS took control of the area.
The family returned to the village in 2017, after ISIS had been defeated. However, they found a village that was severely impacted by the war, most of their belongings were gone, and their land was contaminated with improvised mines and other explosive ordnance. Ayada recounts: “When we returned, we found our house in bad shape; the doors and windows were broken, and the walls were heavily damaged. Before the ISIS occupation, we had used the land behind our house to grow palm trees, olives, pomegranates, figs, and vegetables like tomatoes and eggplants, but when we returned our land was completely destroyed and instead of trees, they (ISIS) planted mines.”
The first few years after their return were extremely difficult for Ayada and his family, with the threat of explosives looming over them. They couldn’t use their farmland as ISIS had planted mines in their land. Their children couldn’t play outside due to the possibility of accidents occurring. And public services were still limited because explosive ordnance contamination was blocking access to buildings and preventing aid organisations from operating. Ayada also tells us that there have been many accidents in the area, especially among farmers who started using their lands following the war while there were still mines and other explosives in the ground.
Ayada and his family were initially warned by the local military in the area about the explosive hazards. When NPA started operating in the area, an explosive ordnance risk education (EORE) team also visited al-Khasfa village to educate the returning population about explosive ordnance and how to mitigate the threat. These EORE sessions were especially important for the children in the village, to ensure they understood the dangers and would be able to recognize suspicious items and know what to do when encountering them. NPA’s EORE team conducted a session with Ayada’s family in December 2020.
In July 2022, NPA started clearance of the land around Ayada’s house,
with two manual clearance teams, supported by a machine. The teams were
able to fully complete the task within one month. A total of 34,000
square meters were released and returned to the community. During the
clearance activities, the teams found and safely removed 4 improvised
mines and 10 items of unexploded ordnance. 60 people will benefit
directly from the released land, including Ayada and his family, with an
additional 120 people living nearby benefitting indirectly.
Once their land had been cleared and returned to them free from
explosives, Ayada immediately started planting wheat, barley, and other
small crops. Fatima (Ayada’s wife) says they also no longer had to worry
about their children playing outside:
Ayada also started working as a truck driver, transporting materials such as sand, cement, and gravel between towns in western Anbar, mostly to be used for construction of new roads. Ayada says that this was not possible until recently as many of the roads he now uses were still too dangerous, but after NPA’s clearance operations in different parts of Anbar, he can now work in and travel between these towns freely. Ayada concludes: “I want to fully restore our farm to the way it was before the war. I'm working on it, but it will take time. We’re already growing wheat, barley seeds, vegetables, and olive trees. We’re planning to also plant palm trees and other trees.”