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The forgotten children of Darwaz

Throughout its time in Afghanistan, FSD’s aim has been to identify and eliminate the risks posed by explosive contamination which affects surrounding communities; and ultimately to contribute to more prosperous economic and social develop- ment in the cross-border regions of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The remote region of Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province is still contaminated by landmines. […]

Throughout its time in Afghanistan, FSD’s aim has been to identify and eliminate the risks posed by explosive contamination which affects surrounding communities; and ultimately to contribute to more prosperous economic and social develop- ment in the cross-border regions of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The remote region of Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province is still contaminated by landmines. This region is cut off from the rest of Afghanistan because of the Pamir mountains which form the south-eastern tip of the Hindu Kush mountain range. Unfortunately, the closest cities with administrative and financial links to the capital sit cut off from Badakhshan on the other side of the mountain range.

The team members with clearance mine material

The Darwaz region, which straddles both the Tajik and Afghan sides of the border, has been contaminated by thousands of «butterfly mines», which are a So- viet designed (PFM-1) anti-personnel mine that were released in their thousands as a defensive minefield by airdrop when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. Due to the local geography and mountainous terrain, the Darwaz region also experience severe climatic conditions which restricts access and prohibits demining activities for many of the winter months.

This limited access also restricts other stake- holders and actors from mobilising humanitarian and disaster relief activities, only further exacerbating the challenges of the region. Despite the obstacles encountered by FSD, it continues to operate with well tried and tested systems and well-trained staff; in 2019, the organisation de- ployed three manual demining teams and two mine risk education teams. In this region half of the victims of anti-personnel mines are children, which is why FSD organises mine awareness sessions in schools to help prevent accidents caused by explosive remnants of war.

FSD in action with documents in Afghanistan

It was at the end of a mine awareness training session that Mardesha, an English teacher, stated that. «We really appreciate the work that FSD does for children and for the community more generally. We also wish to make FSD aware of the basic conditions of our school». The conditions he talks about are unappealing and dire; no chairs, no teaching materials, save for a black- board, and no heating, which is debilitating in the winter months. As a result of this, both teaching and learn- ing is difficult. For Mardesha, «all violence is due to illiteracy, which is why education is essential to reduce it». He fears daily for his students for the last 20 years; many have been injured and some have lost their lives. He remains confident in the future though, «since FSD began demining operations, we have finally seen the danger decrease, contaminated areas have also decreased; the deminers have cleaned up a lot of land and returned it to the community», he adds.

Indeed, this community has been impacted heavily by mines for many years, residents often fear for their safety and can also no longer transport their animals because of the contaminated areas. As a result, poor agriculture, food production and distribution have a direct effect on all the local population; every area of land that is cleared is an area that can be turned into productive and safe land. This is why the work of the FSD is so vital to Darwaz; international aid is pivotal in contributing to any future sustainable peace in the country. Northern Af- ghanistan also plays a vital role in the political and cultural diaspora of Afghani- stan due to the presence of many important ethnic groups and its important geographic trade and economic ties with China and Central Asia. It is also why FSD is passionate in continuing its mine clearance and mine victim assistance activities in the region in order to ensure sustainable development and regional stability in the future.

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