The return of peace to northern Uganda has prompted many formerly displaced people to return home, but resettling into the villages has proved tough for landmine survivors.
"I never imagined that I would become disabled until I was hit by a mine planted by LRA [Lord's Resistance Army] rebels in front of my door in 1995," Irene Laker Odwar said. "Now some people look at me as a burden or a curse."
Laker, a member of the Gulu-Amuru Landmine Survivor's group, said several land victims in the region had been affected by trauma, inadequate medical support and inability to fend for themselves.
"Some of our relatives and members of the community do not want to associate with us - they think we bring more burdens," she added.
The group has 876 members in Gulu and Amuru Districts. The number of survivors is, however, believed to be higher in villages because some fear to come out and register or to openly express their problems. "The majority of landmine victims are very young, they still require a lot of support to be able to earn a living," Irene explained.
Even where some survivors had returned, many felt the villages were still infested with landmines and other unexploded ordnances.
"I was hit at a water point a few metres away from my home," one of the victims, only identified as Akello, told IRIN in Amuru. "This place was a hideout for the rebels; there may be are undetected mines or unexploded [ordnances]."
Others lament that village life did not provide adequate social support structures like well-equipped health units, clean water and access roads for the disabled. Those with unhealed wounds were languishing without proper treatment.
Kalanzi Emmanuel, the officer in charge of Gulu regional referral orthopedics centre at Gulu hospital, said the survivors needed a lot of medical support as they try to resettle in their villages. But the centre lacked adequate staff and equipment to help all of them.
"Government recruited only three technologists and AVSI [an Italian aid agency] recruited one more, one occupational therapist, one psychosocial therapist and two social workers to help the victims,” he said. "The local governments had agreed to transport the victims to the centre for routine treatment or control, but this is not being done."
Gulu district and AVSI run a project for some survivors, building materials from clay. "It will help them learn skills in manufacturing building materials and earn income to support their families," said the district rehabilitation officer, Perry Jawoko.
Michael Ocan Ongom, AVSI mine risk educator, said that the US$12,000 project will help victims lead meaningful lives and be self-reliant.
"We are making roof tiles, flower pots, ventilation tiles, candle stands, flower pots, interlocking bricks and charcoal stoves," Lanyero Jennifer, a 25-year old mother who lost her right leg, said. "The proceeds are helping me meet daily expenses."
Northern Uganda has just emerged from two decades of armed conflict between the LRA and the government. The conflict devastated the region and led to almost two million people fleeing their homes to live in camps. According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), it created the threat of mines, unexploded ordnance and abandoned explosive ordnance.
Photo: Vincent Mayanja/IRIN
of Agweng camp in Lira district demolish a hut in a former IDP camp:
Lira has been demined to allow for the resettlement of former IDPs
In May 2007, an international NGO based in Gulu received more than 200 reports of UXO from local people, according to the ICBL's annual report for that year. "There are unexploded mortar shells, grenades, RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] shells, aircraft bombs...but we can also find single mines and mine fields near the border with South Sudan," a staff member of the NGO said in the report.
Uganda is signatory to the Mine Ban Treaty, but national implementation legislation was yet to be enacted by July 2007.
The report also notes that a cessation of hostilities agreement signed by the government and the LRA in August 2006 did not specifically mention landmines. Yet 13 hazardous areas were identified in Lira District, 19 in Soroti, 91 Gulu, 153 in Kitgum and 63 in Amuru.
Lira has since been demined while areas in Kaberamaido district were cleared and are being used for farming.
Over years of conflict, scores of civilians are believed to have been killed. In 2006, at least 50 casualties were reported, including 11 people killed and 39 injured. Seventy percent of the casualties occurred in areas where mine risk education had been provided, and 30 percent were children.
"The cumulative number of mine casualties in Uganda is not known," the ICBL said. "The government reports 900 survivors in northern Uganda and 200 in western Uganda...data from the ministry of health, the ICRC and NGOs show that there might have been as many as 2,000 mine/UXO casualties between 1999 and 2004."
Uganda closed down its mine-producing factory at Nakasongola, near Kampala, in 2001. In July 2003, it destroyed over 4,000 anti-personnel mines but retained a few thousand "for training purposes".