Italy boosts mine action program [Archives:2005/805/Local News]

January 6 2005

Yemen's mine action programme received a boost last week from the Italian government when it contributed a further 150,000 euros to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supported Mine Action Programme, in addition to its previous grant of 200,000 euros in 2003.

“The Italian government appreciates UNDP's actions and projects in Yemen and it is very satisfied with the results of the Yemen Mine Action Programme – the number of square kilometres cleared and the sharp reduction in the number of victims,” the Italian ambassador to Yemen, Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte, told IRIN in the capital, Sana'a.

He explained that Italy had reduced its funding to national de-mining projects generally, but continued to support Yemen as it is a country which “deserves special consideration.”

The ambassador highlighted the important political significance of the Yemen Mine Action Programme as a symbol of healing between the northern, traditionalist former Yemen Arab Republic and the southern, socialist former People's Democratic Republic of Yemen. The two states were unified only in 1990, and continuing friction between the two resulted in a brief but devastating civil war in 1994.

Past conflicts in Yemen meant that a large number of mines were laid. Between 1999 and 2000 the Mine Impact Survey (MIS) – the first such UN-certified survey in the world – found a total area of 923 sq km covered with mines, affecting 592 communities with a population of 900,000. Yemen's total population is estimated to be around 20 million. Under the programme, by the end of 2004, all of the 14 “highly affected” communities will be cleared.

At the end of 2003, the governorate of Aden in the south was declared free of mines, and there will shortly be an official ceremony to declare Hodeidah, on the western Red Sea coast, free of mines.

This contribution is seen as a prime example of UNDP's continued bilateral engagement with Italy through its government and its decentralised regional programme of relief and development, Flavia Pansieri, UN Resident Coordinator in Yemen, told IRIN.

Jamal Jarallah Jawbah, programme analyst for UNDP, told IRIN that the Italian grant was especially welcome as it “added value” to the Mine Action Programme, especially as the money was not earmarked for a particular activity, giving them flexibility.

The Mine Action Programme is also supported by, amongst others, Japan, which funds mine awareness and education campaigns and victim assistance activities; Germany, which finances the mine-detecting dogs component; and the government of Yemen, which provides operating expenses for mine-clearing teams.

In addition to this new contribution, specific support has been given by Italy over the past year in the form of free treatment for Yemeni child victims of mines.

Funded by the Tuscany regional government, a 13-year old girl was the most recent victim to benefit from the scheme and her health was “physically and psychologically restored” after three to four months of treatment at Italy's leading orthopaedic hospital in Florence.

An 18-year old youth is currently recovering very well in Florence following extended treatment for severe bone infections, and is expected back in Yemen soon. Two more children will be treated in Florence in 2005.