December 29, 2004

Sri Lanka landmine update

From Tim Horner in Sri Lanka:

Dear Mike et al
The situation in Sri Lanka is indeed quite bad. The current death toll here from the half a dozen or so tidal surges on Sunday morning, stands at over 13,000 and will no doubt rise. However, the relief effort is surprisingly well coordinated and efficient (I say surprisingly because I did a Masters at Cranfield in Disaster Management and we studied the confusion that generally follows the onset of a rapid disaster).

The Government structures have taken charge and UNOCHA has sent 6 personnel in to act as a coordination centre for international aid in support of the Government. The UN and NGO's are working as one, focused on the clear job in hand. The initial local response has been excellent so far with political problems
put aside, UNHCR / ICRC type support for the displaced was in the field hours after the onset.

One area of interest for our forum to learn from is the media stories about
minefields being lifted and swept across the landscape by the wave action.
This has put constraints on the response agencies because people are
concerned about going into various areas for the fear of "displaced minefields".
A Sri Lankan Brigadier told me that minefields around a military base on the
beach in Batticaloa (SE Sri Lanka) have been washed away, but he hasn't seen
them and his information is third or fourth hand. I have a team here in Jaffna (Northern Sri Lanka) looking for specific cases of mine or UXO movement. After 3 days of focused investigation we have found only 2 Type 72s laying among the debris of a village. We have found a few UXO and some lost munitions but no mines other than those 2 T72s where we weren't expecting them. The media is portraying displaced mines as a significant obstacle to relief and rescue workers. They aren't.

There may be isolated cases of mines and certainly ammunition moved from
army OP's on the beaches (the army lost many soldiers who were manning beach bunkers and sentry points). But I can verify the fact that significant mine
migration in Jaffna due to Tsunami's is more media rhetoric than reality.

One last thing, although the death toll is so high, to my knowledge there were no deaths or injuries to any of the mine action expats in Sri Lanka. The local staff will be a different matter with many living in isolated villages but we won't have a clear picture until the dust settles.

Best regards
Tim
PS for regularly updated official information you can access the National Disaster Management center website www.lk.undp.org/ndmc.

Posted by duver001 at December 29, 2004 11:41 AM