02 November 2015

FLOODS 1 TIFARITI 25 Octubre 2015 599X449

Tifariti © CEAS, 25 October 2015

Floods caused by ten straight days of heavy rain are likely worsening the threat posed by landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) in the area of Western Sahara. Since the flood waters have not yet receded, it is impossible yet to quantify the damages or to assess the actual extent of the risk posed to civilians and their livelihoods by the mines and ERW that have likely been displaced outside of already known marked areas.

Western Sahara, with a total surface area of 266,000 km2, is, according to various specialised international organisations, one of the world’s 10 territories most heavily contaminated by landmines, cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war. There are millions of devices scattered in the desert, especially on both sides of the 2,720 km long wall, with around 50 marked minefields[1], in addition to the enormous amount of ammunition abandoned after the war.

 MINE FIELD Joaquin Tornero 598X350

Tifariti © Joaquin Tornero, October 2014

Flooding affected both sides of the berm and devastated the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf (Algeria), where live most of the 2,500 victims whose accidents occurred in the eastern part of the wall. In the western part, areas most affected by the floods are Smara and Auserd, where population centres can be found very close to the wall, along with nomadic stockbreeding activities, as well as military personnel. On the eastern side of the berm, the Sahrawi population is also nomadic, travelling with large herds of camels and goats. Humanitarian demining teams, concentrated in Tifariti and Mehriz together with the personnel of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), are also at high risk because of the instability of the area following the floods.

The emergency situation requires a rapid and efficient emergency response, such as providing mine action organisations with the resources and means to carry out risk assessment and to mark out mined areas once again.

By: Elisa Pavón, Co-promoter of «Dales Voz a Las Víctimas»

[1] Report of the UN Secretary-General on the situation concerning Western Sahara (http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2015/246) and Landmine Monitor (http://the-monitor.org/en-gb/reports/2015/morocco/mine-action.aspx)