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Mine risk education in Myanmar: When knowledge is power

06 Mar 2019


Tunlun, 32, lost his leg when stepping on a landmine. He received a protheses from DCA’s mobile prosthesis clinic which enables him to work again – and play football. As part of the support landmine survivors, thanks to funds from the MHF, DCA provides cash assistance, mine risk education and psycho-social support. Credit: DCA/Bax Lindhardt

The suffering caused by anti-personnel mines is horrific. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, a victim who survives an anti-personnel mine blast typically requires amputation, multiple operations and prolonged physical rehabilitation, and often suffers permanent disability, with serious social, psychological and economic implications. Fortunately, 164 States have joined the Mine Ban Convention, which establishes a comprehensive ban on these weapons. The number of new mine victims has significantly decreased since the Convention entered into force nearly 20 years ago. Yet, landmines continue to kill and maim, with civilians often suffering the consequences.

Myanmar Humanitarian Fund and DanChurchAid partner to save lives

DCA staff members talks to mine survivors in Namsan Township in Shan State of Myanmar. Credit: DCA

DanChurchAid (DCA) has been providing much-needed mine risk education, as well as first aid and psychosocial support to landmine victims in Northern Shan State in Myanmar thanks in part to funding from the Myanmar Humanitarian Fund (MHF). Mine risk education and first aid are two of the main components of DCA’s humanitarian work in the country.

Over the past 10 years, DCA’s Humanitarian Mine Action team has trained and supported local partner organizations across Myanmar to deliver safety messages to people living in areas that are contaminated with landmines or explosive remnants of war. The team has also helped landmine victims to obtain the necessary medical treatment to achieve the highest possible level of independence and quality of life.

Humanitarian Funds like the MHF can operate thanks to the generous contributions of our donors. In 2018 the Fund received USD 14,3 million from Australia, Canada, Germany. Luxemburg, Malta, NZ Sweden, Switzerland, UK and the US, which was key to implement DanChurchAid’s life-saving work.

When funding makes the difference between life and death

Daw Aye Win (left) with her mother and sisters in Namsan Township of Shan State. They were injured by a landmine explosion in May 2018. Credit: DCA

Daw Aye Win lives in Man Kan, a small village of 150 households in Namsan Township in Northern Shan State. Tea farming is the main source of income for her family. In Myanmar, this is an activity usually done by women.

On a typical day, on 12 May 2018, Daw Aye Win dropped off her 1-year-old daughter at her parents’ house and went to work at the farm with her mother and two younger sisters. The farm is adjacent to the road to Namsam town and has a hut where the family can take a break and have lunch. After lunch, as one of her sisters stood up to leave the hut and go back to work, a landmine exploded, injuring all of them.

Luckily, Daw Aye Win’s injuries and those of her youngest sister were not too severe, but she saw that her mother was bleeding, and her oldest sister was lying on the ground unconscious. She managed to call her father for help, and they were all taken to Lashio Hospital.

Physical and psychological harm from mine blasts requires emergency and specialist medical treatment, as well as rehabilitation and psychosocial support services. However, these services are often unavailable in countries such as Myanmar because of a lack of personnel trained to deal with conflict-related injuries. In addition, conflict-torn countries often have limited capacities to provide specialized aftercare for victims of explosive weapons.

Following the incident, Daw Aye Win became concerned with how to afford the necessary medical care. Like most villagers in her town, her family could not afford the cost of the care necessary to recover. Daw had to undergo surgery on both of her legs and remained hospitalized for a month, and her mother and sisters also required treatment and hospitalization. The family was able to receive assistance from DCA through the Myanmar Humanitarian Fund, which enabled their treatment and recovery.

“It happened so close to my home”

Daw Aye May (left) talks about her experience in participating the emergency mine risk education session provided by DCA with support of the Myanmar Humanitarian Fund. Credit: DCA

Daw Aye May’s is very different. She is 56 years old, and with her husband she has raised five children ranging in age from 6 years old to 25 years old. As with Daw Aye Win, the family’s primary income comes from picking tea leaves on their 30-acre farm.

“There was a landmine incident on 12 May 2018 near my tea-leaf farm,” she recalls. “Four women were injured, one very seriously. I was shocked because this happened so close to my farm, to my home. We were so scared we wouldn’t dare to go out to pick tea leaves, even though that’s the only means of survival for us. We were just too afraid to step on a mine.”

In Myanmar, UNICEF and the Mine Risk Working Group documented 185 mine-related casualties from January to July 2018 alone. Landmine incidents increased by 40 per cent and landmine casualties by 17 per cent over the same period in 2017. Due to access constraints, many casualties are not recorded in conflict areas. Kachin has one of the highest rates of landmine incidents reported in the country and, indeed, the world, with civilians, including children, frequently killed or maimed due to explosions.

“We got to the point where we could not survive any longer without selling tea leaves. Our village head heard about our situation and came to invite me to a mine risk education session planned in our village. He wanted to ensure that all adults in the village would join the session, listen and learn from it.”

Mine risk education in schools to teach children how to avoid the danger of stepping on landmines is a critical part of DCA's work in Myanmar. Credit: DCA/Bax Lindhardt

The mine risk education session was facilitated by TSYU staff from the Ta’ang Students and Youth Union, a local civil society organization active in Shan State, particularly targeting Ta’ang ethnic group. It was attended by 48 women and men. The MHF and partners like DCA work with TSYU and other local organizations in Shan State.

Participants gained in-depth understanding of the danger of mines, how to differentiate the various types of mines, and where and how mines are used and buried by government armed forces or armed groups. Participants were invited to share the knowledge gained in the session with their friends and families.

“I am still sharing what I have learned with adults and children in our village,” says Daw Aye. “Knowledge is power. Knowing how to deal with the risks gives us more confidence and, most of all, enables us to carry on with our lives.”

Partnerships such as the one between DCA and the Myanmar Humanitarian Fund mean the difference between life and death for so many people living in countries such as Myanmar. Between 16 October 2017 and 16 July 2018, the Myanmar Humanitarian Fund allocated nearly US$250,000 to DCA and its implementing partners for protection activities, reaching more than 38,000 people. The fund remains one of the most effective means of supporting humanitarian response in Myanmar.