Mines and explosive remnants of war threaten children’s lives in Libya

As the crisis in Libya drags into its fifth month, children are at increasing risk of exposure to mines and explosive remnants of war (ERWs). This risk has been compounded by the surge in availability of small arms and light weapons throughout much of the country. In response, Handicap International and UNICEF have partnered to raise awareness among children and families of the dangers posed by these weapons through a multi-faceted education program.

NEW YORK (June 11, 2011) – As the crisis in Libyadrags into its fifth month, children are at increasing risk of exposure to mines and explosive remnants of war (ERWs). This risk has been compounded by the surge in availability of small arms and light weapons throughout much of the country. In response, Handicap International and UNICEF have partnered to raise awareness among children and families of the dangers posed by these weapons through a multi-faceted education program.

The United Nations and non-governmental organizations, working through the Joint Mine Action Coordination Team (JMACT), have confirmed the presence of explosive remnants of war and large caches of small arms in a number of heavily populated areas of Libya, including Ajdabiya, Misrata and parts of the Nafusa Mountains region in the west of the country. Consequently, the awareness campaign is targeting the general population and displaced families in and around Benghazi, Misrata and Ajdabiya, with plans to expand to other communities as humanitarian access allows.

Some areas still under heavy conflict or government control have not yet been assessed for contamination, but attempts are being made to secure access to these sites.

Direct sessions with trained volunteers promoting risk awareness and education sessions for children are already underway in camps for the internally displaced in areas of eastern Libya including Ajdabiya, Benghazi and Misrata. The workshops feature games that actively engage children in a learning process that is both educational and fun.

More than 30,000 informational leaflets have also been distributed to communities displaced in the Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Misrata, Brega and Tunisian border areas thus far, and mosques, local radio stations and civil society groups are also disseminating program safety messages in their local communities.

"We have a dedicated team of workshop trainers and volunteers who are working hard to keep the children of Libya safe from exposure to these dangerous weapons,” said Solene Blanchere, Risk Education Project Manager for Handicap International. “The program has received a very warm reception from the communities in which we have worked so far, and we look forward to expanding it to other areas of the country as soon as possible."

"Children in many areas of Libya are at significant risk from exposure to ERWs and small arms, and sadly, some have already lost their lives," said UNICEF Libya Response Team Leader Pierre Poupard. "When they come across these weapons, children have been known to collect them as trophies or for scrap metal, putting their lives in grave danger. This program is essential for giving children and communities the lifesaving tools and awareness they need to minimize the risk and stay safe.”

The newly launched program will run until the end of November 2011, with the goal of reaching more than 500,000 people in eastern and western Libya through radio and television public service announcements, as well as community awareness sessions explaining the risks associated with exposure to these weapons. Continued support from the donor community is needed from the international community, however, as the program expands into areas currently under conflict.

About UNICEF

UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian aid organization in the world. Working in more than 150 countries, UNICEF provides children with health and immunizations, clean water, nutrition, education, emergency and disaster relief, and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States.

UNICEF is at the forefront of efforts to reduce child mortality worldwide. There has been substantial progress: the annual number of under-five deaths dropped from 13 million in 1990 to 8.1 million in 2009. But still, 22,000 children die each day from preventable causes. Our mission is to do whatever it takes to make that number zero by giving children the essentials for a safe and healthy childhood. .

For additional information, please contact:
Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146, (m) 646.428.5010, smasur@unicefusa.org
Kiní Schoop, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.922.2634, kschoop@unicefusa.org

About Handicap International

Handicap International is an independent international aid organization working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. Working alongside people with disabilities and vulnerable populations, Handicap International takes action and raises awareness in order to respond to their essential needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights.

Since its creation in 1982, Handicap International has put in place development programs in over 60 countries, and intervened in numerous emergency situations. The network of 8 national associations (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, UK and U.S.A.) work together to raise funds, manage projects and spread the principles and actions of the organization. As one of the six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), Handicap International is co-laureate of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. The organization is also laureate of the 2011 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize.