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Tigray regional authorities report over 1,000 fatalities since 2022

The Ministry of Defense and the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) are embarking on a nationwide project to clear landmines and explosive ordnances.

The decommissioning or clearing of schools in northern Ethiopia is given priority as officials look to hasten the return of millions of IDPs currently sheltered in camps.

Brigadier General Tadesse Amelo, head of the Ministry’s anti-explosives department, told The Reporter his office is looking to scale up clearing projects already ongoing in the Afar and Somali regions.

“Tigray will be our next focus,” said Tadesse, who also heads the Ethiopia Mine Action Office under UNMAS. He disclosed the Ministry had been waiting for “stability” in the region to resume clearing work in Tigray.

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“We’re preparing to clear land up to borders with neighboring countries. Cooperation with international organizations is just starting, but the Ministry has been doing the work,” he said.

UNMAS will also provide technical and capacity building training to experts at the Ministry, according to Francesca Chiaudani, head of the UNMAS Ethiopia programme. She disclosed that a number of international organizations specializing in landmine clearing will also be part of the work.

“They will cover areas where the Ministry is over-stretched,” said Chiaudani during a ceremony commemorating Mine Action Day on April 4, 2024, at Elilly Hotel. Diplomats, military officials, donors, and the representatives of NGOs and local CSOs were in attendance.

Tadesse observes Ethiopia’s landmine problems date back almost a century to the second Italian invasion, worsened by the Ethio-Somali war of the 1970s and the war with Eritrea two decades later.

“Recent domestic conflicts are also more (explosive) stock. We’ve cleared much of the land from explosives but it’s not a simple task,” he said.

Tadesse notes the fighting has left landmines in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar, and says a huge amount of effort is required to clear the danger.

Explosive ordnance contamination in Ethiopia goes back to 1935 with six major armed conflicts adding to the minefields in the decades since. Seven of the country’s regional states (Afar, Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella, Oromia, Somali, and Tigray) have varying levels of contamination, and legacy minefields cross three international boundaries.

In 2018, 99.4 percent of the identified contaminated areas were in the Somali region, which had nearly one billion square meters booby-trapped at the time. Oromia and Benishangul accounted for the remainder but conflicts since 2018 have spread the scourge to other parts of the country.

A UNMAS report reveals 625 fatalities related to landmine incidents in Tigray between 2021 and 2023. A further 300 people in Afar and 262 in Amhara also lost their lives to explosive ordnances over the same period. However, Tigray regional authorities report over 1,000 fatalities over the last couple of years alone.

UNMAS estimated that over 7 million Ethiopians needed landmine clearing in 2023. The agency had requested USD 10 million for a clearing project targeting over 700,000 people in the Tigray, Amhara, and Somali regions last year.

“The internal wars in the past few years were largely conducted using light weapons and did not result in large quantities of explosives and landmines,” said Tadesse. “But still there are remnants that can explode at any time. We need to collect and dispose of it all. We have to work hard to clear it but it’s difficult to reach everywhere at once.”

Ministry experts and their international partners must contend with a shortage of funding and technical assistance as well as a need for additional contamination surveys. The lack of a centralized reporting system and functional information management system add to the troubles.

The absence of a national strategy and work plan and standardization and accreditation systems to involve external organizations in landmine clearing are also obstacles.

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