MAG teams up with Facebook to reduce casualties from ISIS mines in Iraq

The Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has launched an innovative project with Facebook and the US government to help people in northern Iraq learn how to stay safe from the landmines and unexploded bombs left behind after years of war.

The initiative uses Facebook’s advertising tools to deliver simple graphics to at-risk groups describing how to recognise dangers, how to stay safe if an explosive device is discovered, and how to alert the authorities to the problem.

The pilot project, which will run until November 2019, will target users living in Ninewa, a governorate in northern Iraq that is home to 2.5 million people.

Ninewa, and Mosul, its capital city, were heavily affected by the conflict between the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and Iraqi government forces. More than three years of conflict had a devastating impact on the area: more than 125,000 square kilometres of the governorate are now believed to be contaminated with improvised landmines and other explosive devices. Many landmines manufactured by ISIS are sensitive enough to be triggered by a child but powerful enough to disable a tank.

The initiative aims to reach at least 85 per cent of Facebook users in Ninewa—an estimated 1.4 million people—and will be supported by MAG teams working on the ground. A dedicated website (www.staysafefrommines.com) also contains essential information on how to stay safe from mines in three languages. The messages have already reached over 800,000 people in the region since the initiative launched in September.

Since 2016, MAG has removed more than 17,000 explosive items from Ninewa—many found in and around homes, schools, and health facilities. MAG teams have given risk education sessions to more than 175,000 people, teaching them how to recognise, avoid, and report explosives. These sessions are typically delivered in person by MAG staff. However, with tens of thousands of families continuing to return home after the fall of ISIS, there has been a need to develop a way to provide life-saving education to larger audiences, more quickly.

This need was the foundation of the collaboration between MAG, the US government and Facebook.

Portia Stratton, Country Director for MAG in Iraq, said:

Almost half of landmine victims are children, so it’s important as many people as possible learn how to keep their families safe until we can clear the danger.

“Our staff usually give lessons in-person, but that means the reach is limited and more costly. Using Facebook to get to hundreds of thousands of at-risk people via their phones could have a real impact in helping reduce the casualties from these devastating devices.

A spokesperson for Facebook said:

 “Facebook is honoured to play a part in helping reduce landmine casualties in Iraq. With so many now using Facebook around the world, ads are another way to share urgent information with communities who might be at risk. We hope that these messages in Iraq could one day save a life.”

Sol Black, Program Manager for Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen Emergency Response at the US State Department said:

As part of our constant search for new and innovative ways to keep people safe from explosive hazards left by ISIS in Iraq, the United States Department of State is proud to partner with MAG and Facebook to deliver targeted risk education to Iraqis living in areas most heavily impacted by improvised explosive devices, landmines, and other explosive hazards left by ISIS.

“By leveraging an existing communications platform already used by the majority of Iraqis, this Department of State-facilitated initiative uses an innovative approach to deliver life-saving information to those Iraqis most likely to encounter dangerous explosive hazards.

MAG is a global landmine clearance charity that’s helped over 18 million people in 68 countries rebuild their lives and livelihoods after war.

We have worked in Iraq since 1992 to make land safe for populations affected by decades of conflict.

(Source: MAG)

By Tessa Fox for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Explosive hazards in Mosul a major threat for years to come 

The classroom of 13-year-old boys was vibrant, filled with energy, as the final lesson of the day began, addressing a serious topic. One of the guest instructors held up posters of various suspicious objects. Some were more obviously mortars or hand grenades, but others appeared to be fun things, such as toys and dolls.

Representatives from the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), in coordination with the Iraqi Health and Social Care Organization, were delivering an explosive risk class at the Amer Abdullah School for Boys in Mosul, Iraq.

It may be the most important lesson the children there receive, as they face the daily risk of death or injury from unexploded ordnance (UXO). As Pehr Lodhammar, manager of the UNMAS Iraq program described it, “Western Mosul [in particular] has an explosive threat which is unlike anything we have seen in the past.

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Germany now UNMAS’ largest contributor for clearance of explosive hazards in Iraq

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) welcomes an additional contribution of € 17 million ($20.2 million) from the Government of Germany towards survey and clearance of explosive hazards in support of humanitarian and stabilization initiatives.

The overall contribution, totalling € 44.2 million ($52.5 million) since 2016, makes the Government of Germany the most significant donor to UNMAS in Iraq.

The recent contribution of € 10 million to enable Humanitarian efforts and additional € 7 million to enable Stabilization initiatives is timely as the Government of Iraq seeks to facilitate the return of over more than three million people to their homes in liberated areas.

UNMAS will focus on risk education and clearance of public spaces to support the safe, dignified and voluntary return of Iraqis as well clear critical infrastructure providing electricity, water, health and education services. Activities will be focussed in Anbar, Salahadin, Kirkuk and Ninewa Governorates.

The conflict with ISIL in Iraq has resulted in complex and extensive explosive hazard contamination and has displaced more than three million people since 2014. Explosive hazards present a significant risk for individuals returning to their communities, as well as those providing the initial response, especially in urban areas where explosive items are buried in rubble and debris from collapsed buildings. Humanitarian actors are challenged to safely provide assistance and people have been forced to abandon their homes due to explosive hazards.

A program to remove unexploded ordnance (UXO) and explosive remnants of war (ERW) in and around the city of Mosul could cost $50 million, UN officials have said.

The UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) had previously estimated costs for Iraq as a whole at $50 million this year, but said this could double because of Mosul.

Paul Heslop, chief of UNMAS program planning and management section stated that as a result of the assessed contamination in Mosul we will need $50 million for the city alone in addition to $50 million for the rest of the country.

Heslop stated that “clearing urban areas of contamination is more complex and dangerous than minefields. You need a higher level of technical skill and complex equipment and it’s slower. As areas are liberated, you get a better idea of the level of contamination.

Heslop added that Iraq needs an Afghanistan-style (demining) operation, which at its peak about five years ago consisted of around 15,000 people.

(Source: GardaWorld)

(Picture: UNMAS)

The U.S. Embassy announced new U.S. funding worth $5 million to assist in safely clearing explosive hazards in Ramadi, an essential first step to supporting Iraqi authorities as they repair key infrastructure and help displaced families return home.

The UN estimates thousands of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have been left behind by Da’esh throughout the Ramadi. Under this new initiative, U.S. Embassy Baghdad and the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs have awarded a contract to Sterling International Group, LLC, one of the world’s leading demining companies.

Working in partnership with Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi, Anbar Governor al-Rawi, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), and the United Nations Development Program’s Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilization (FFIS), Sterling will begin initial efforts to survey unexploded ordnance, abandoned explosive ordnance, and IEDs in several Ramadi neighborhoods as well as the city’s main water station in Tamim.

Since 2003, the United States has invested more than $280 million under the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction program toward the clearance and safe disposal of landmines, unexploded ordnance, and excess conventional weapons and munitions in Iraq.  This new initiative reaffirms our continued commitment to building a strong partnership with Iraq and the Iraqi people.

(Source: Embassy of the United States)