April 4th: a numbered day?

Each year April 4 is commemorated as the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. It is among the newest of the 66 international days promoted by the United Nations, but what makes it somewhat unique among all the others is that problem it addresses is very solvable. Indeed it is solvable in our lifetime, which means that in the future there may no longer be a need commemorate it.

This year there were events in dozens of countries marking April 4th.

With adequate, predictable funding and sustained political will, the April 4th International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action days may be numbered.

Filling a need for Ugandan survivors: Margaret Arach Orech on stump socks

Margaret Arach Orech is a landmines survivor and campaigner with the ICBL−CMC. Injured by a landmine in 1998, she founded the Uganda Landmine Survivors Association (ULSA) in 2005 to focus on advocacy and victim assistance, becoming a humanitarian disarmament leader within international civil society as well as at home.

The 2018 Winter Paralympics gives viewers a look at the latest in prosthetic technology, seeing the mechanical support systems used by athletes that translate into amazing performances in their chosen sport. There is a more prosaic side to prosthetic use though, as Mines Action Canada learned talking to Margaret Arach Orech at the 20th anniversary States Party meeting in Vienna in December―stump socks!

A primer on stump socks

  • Stump socks need to be worn on your residual limb next to the skin to help protect it, and also to make your artificial limb more comfortable by providing cushioning and help absorbing perspiration.
  • A combination of sock, powder and cream prevent rubbing and bruising, and makes wearing a prosthetic more comfortable.
  • Mostly made of stretchy cotton, the thickness varies depending on the temperature ― i.e. whether a warm or cool climate.

What are the variables

  • While not difficult to obtain, the tricky part is getting them fitted properly. After all, the size of a person’s stump and sockets varies.
  • You need different weight socks depending on temperature variations.
  • Quality varies. Although local orthopedic centres bring in material to make them, this is not ideal.  The quality socks are produced in the UK and US by groups like Blatchford, a leading rehabilitation provider.
  • Quantity matters. Ideally a prosthetic wearer should have one dozen socks, which if properly cared for will last 3−4 years. They need to be washed daily and, particularly in hot weather, you really need two per day for maximum hygiene. 

Margaret’s experience

Part of normal rehabilitation for amputees, Margaret received a pair of stump socks when first fitted with a prosthetic in Uganda following her injury; they were handmade from rough material and uncomfortable.  After two years she was provided with better quality socks (one dozen) in the UK from Blatchford, which manufactures Endolite prosthetic products. These lasted Margaret up to four years.

Margaret’s action

For amputees in Uganda, distribution of quality stump socks is the challenge ULSA is addressing. ULSA maintains a database of survivors by region and disability category, and currently rents a vehicle and tours a region for one week distributing socks individually, knowing in advance the specific needs of the amputees.

Margaret’s plan

Margaret would like expand this needed work. If sufficient resources can be raised, ULSA’s target is to supply five socks per person, starting with about 150 survivors. Quality socks can be bought in Nairobi for about US$8−$10 each. A place in Kampala has been identified that can order quality cream and powder from Europe, but only for a large order.

The Walk without Fear Foundation would like to help Margaret meet her goals and her fellow survivors’ needs. With your support this Giving Tuesday, we can help.

Floods and Landmines: déjà vu all over again

As soon as the media calls began it hit me this is déjà vu all over again. The media were calling about the massive flooding in Bosnia and Herzegovina and how that would affect the landmine situation in the country. Due to the success of the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines Canadian media do not often call these days about landmines. Regardless of how impressive the progress towards a mine-free world has been for the media it is not newsworthy.

However, a natural disaster involving a dangerous, indiscriminate and inhumane weapon, now that the media could get excited about.

Yet for me it wasn’t really news. It had happened before (déjà vu), in fact, a number of times (déjà vu all over again) hence the use of the late, great baseball player Yogi Berra’s reference to “déjà vu all over again”. Berra was famous for these rather odd quotes which strangely enough were both usually accurate and often profound.

The fears that the major flooding in Bosnia had dislodged landmines and moved them from marked minefields or known hazardous areas was also experienced in Mozambique in 1998 and Nicaragua (2000) among others.  

The danger of landmines moving from known, marked or suspected areas to a new location, where people in the community think the land is safe, is very real. The fact that it could and should have been prevented is tragic more than newsworthy.

Fifteen years after the Ottawa Treaty  became international law much more progress in clearing contaminated areas was possible and should have happened in Bosnia. Tools to do the job are well known and available, but they require the political will and sustained funding to get the job done. Not enough of either was present in Bosnia.

So when the floods hit the threat posed by submerged landmines emerged again.  The uncertainty over whether the mines had moved, and to where, made the crisis caused by the unprecedented flooding into a new, even more dangerous situation. More time, money and resources will be needed to make the land safe again.

Other countries have made much more progress than Bosnia has done to date. Nicaragua, of the 1998 floods, is now mine-free. Mozambique, of the 2000 floods, is expected to become mine-free this year. Mozambique will join more than two dozen formerly affected countries, which have cleared landmines from their land, and removed those lethal barriers to development in their country.

One of the lessons from the flooding in Bosnia is that the threat posed by landmines does not go away until all the mines are gone and the land is declared mine-free. That reminds me of another Yogi Berra quote, “it’s not over until it is over”.

For Bosnia it was flooding that reminded everyone of the risks created by landmines, but it can also be caused by other natural disasters like earthquakes and fires. It is never over until the land is cleared to internationally agreed humanitarian standards.  

Governments of affected countries and donors alike need to keep this in mind and plan to get this job done as quickly as possible. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines has issued a challenge to complete the job in 10 years. With very few exceptions it can be done. That would really be news and I look forward to taking those calls!

A Simple Gesture Reminds Us That the Problem Continues

Spring is coming slowly to Ottawa this year, but there are signs that it will come. For me there is a new sign each year that spring has arrived and that is the  On April 4th in at least 73 countries people rolled up their pant leg (or sleeve) as part of the global Lend Your Leg initiative.

Thousands of people participated in this unique event as part of the International Day for Mine Action.  Lend Your Leg 2012 was officially a partnership of the International Campaign Ban Landmines and the United Nations, with support from the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement and supportive governments.

Rolling up your pant leg was a simple reminder that in many places around the world landmines are still present, killing and maiming civilians. We have the tools needed to solve this problem, but we need continued political will and sustained funding to finish the job of clearing land and supporting survivors. Canada and Canadians have long been leaders on the landmine issue, but the work is not done yet.

Despite the amazing success to date of the landmines movement and of the Ottawa Treaty banning antipersonnel landmines there are still dozens of countries where landmines present a lethal barrier to development. For over 500,000 landmine survivors and their families the need for ongoing support remains an ongoing challenge and will do so for many years to come.

Perhaps though this success has had the unintended effect of making it seem the work is over. Stories about the landmine crisis rarely make it into Canadian media and indeed due to the amazing success mentioned above it may seem there really isn’t a crisis anymore.