The days of war do not seem to be over for Jordan yet, as remnants of many conflicts are still killing innocent Jordanian civilians. Oula Al Farawati investigates the continuous efforts to rid Jordan of landmines.
Here are some facts: 40,000 square meters in Jordan are still plagued with approximately 200,000 landmines. Over the years, landmines are believed to have killed and injured more than 800 people. 10% Of Jordanian land is still plagued with anti-personal and anti-vehicle landmines. Official numbers say 539 people have had landmines accidents, 113 of whom have died.
The numbers are staggering. They have, however, decreased since Jordan woke up to these sad incidents and decided in 1993 to put an end to landmine deaths and casualties. The Jordanian efforts, heavily supported by royal direct encouragement, have succeeded in bringing the number of square meters planted with landmines from 60,000 to 40,000, and have created legal bodies to accelerate Jordanian efforts to fulfill an international obligation to declare Jordan free of landmines by the year 2009.
"Despite all our efforts, many people are still dying every year because of landmines and unexploded ordinances (UXO)," Mohammad Breikat, national director of the National Committee for De-mining and Rehabilitation told Living Well. "One landmine costs as little as $1 to $5, but to remove it costs around $1,000. De-mining is a long, difficult, and costly process," Breikat added.
According to the Landmines Monitor, the mine and unexploded ordinance problem in Jordan derives from the 1948 partition of Palestine, the 1967–1969 Arab-Israeli conflict, and the confrontation with Syria in 1975. The minefields are limited to three major areas; the Northern Highlands, the Jordan Valley, and Wadi Araba in the south. There is also UXO in a small number of areas centered in the Ajloun and Irbid governorates. According to military estimates, some 305,000 antipersonnel and antivehicle mines were laid on Jordanian territory (73,000 Israeli and 232,000 Jordanian mines).
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reported that mine contamination blocks access valuable agricultural land, delay irrigation and hydroelectric projects, restrict housing construction, and isolate historic and cultural heritage sites. In August 1998, Jordan signed the Mine Ban Treaty, which was ratified on November 13, 1998, and entered into force on May 1, 1999. The Kingdom's Law of Explosive Materials of 1953 serves as the legal mechanism to enforce the treaty.
Mines in Jordan directly affect over 500,000 people, the majority of whom are said to be women and children. "All landmine fields in Jordan are fenced and guarded. The problem is that some people cut parts of the fence to sell them. Others enter the landmine fields and step on a mine that immediately explodes. Some even enter the fields to herd or to picnic," Breikat lamented.
"We are carrying out several awareness efforts and a big campaign for people living around mine affected areas that is due to start soon."
To accelerate de-mining efforts, Breikat said the committee has signed an agreement with the Norwegian People's Aid where the organization will de-mine the areas between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea (Wadi Araba that were minefields planted by the Israeli army).
Another organization taking care of landmine survivors in Jordan is the Landmine Survivors Network (LSN), Jordan Chapter, whose efforts have reached some 590 landmine survivors since the Jordan office was established in 1999. The office helps those who survived a landmine explosion accept the fact that they have lost an organ in three major fields, health, economic opportunities, and right and social integration.
"When someone loses an organ, he or she immediately think that life has stopped and start thinking of the easiest way to commit suicide," Director of LSN's Jordan Office, Adnan Aboudi said.
"We at LSN try to provide these victims with moral support and consequently monetary support to help them stand on their feet again. We answer hundreds of questions raised by the victims and their families and social circles," said Aboudi, himself a victim of a car accident that made him lose his two legs. He said the LSN does most of its work through peer support, using the help and expertise of LSN's employees who have been victims to accidents that made them lose limbs and other parts of their bodies.
"Once we are told about an accident, we plan, with the victims and their families, a recovery plan from all aspects and we encourage them to regard an injury as a new start and as a shore-up," he said. He pointed out that the office has helped many people and has extended its surfaces to anyone who has lost a body part to include survivors of car accidents, diabetes, cancer, and other diseases.
"Our main concern is that those victims become prone to illness and disability, and that is why our efforts concentrate on moral rehabilitation that can make victims rise up to the challenge and prove to themselves and others that their disability cannot deter them from doing what they need to do in life," he concluded.
This spirit was the motive behind many social and professional successes that mine survivor, Mohammad Bakkar has achieved since his leg was mutilated after a mine explosion when he was only 17. "I was lucky to survive an explosion that killed four of the workers working with me in ploughing a field in Northern Ghor. I was driving a tractor when an anti-vehicle mine exploded and left me half dead with a lost leg and a broken arm," he said. This accident made Bakkar the only person with a disability in his village in Northern Shouna.
"I wanted to become a pilot; my aspirations and plans have changed since the accident. The explosion defeated my dream, but did not defeat my inner self. I insisted on pursuing my higher education," he told Living Well.
Bakkar obtained a high school degree (Tawjihi) after which he got a job in the Ministry of Post and Communications. "Through my work in the ministry, I received a scholarship from the Arab League to study Post Sciences at Damascus University in Syria. I got married and I have nine children, all of whom have university degrees," he said. He added that he also works in the wood business, which has enabled him to buy three houses and 90 dunums of agricultural land.
"I was good at sports and won the Jordanian golden swimming medal and the Pan-Arab silver medal in 2000," he said. "This accident made me realize that life does not stop at losing a limb. It made me stronger and more adamant to realize my dreams," he said. "Had I not lost a limb, maybe I would not have achieved what I have achieved now," he proudly stated.