Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) conducts field-based programming in support of its mission to reduce the incidence and impact of armed violence globally. Utilizing experience and knowledge gained from its research, policy-work, and fieldwork, AOAV conducts evidence-based programming in five countries in West, Central, and North Africa – Burundi, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Western Sahara. Over the past year, financial support for these activities has been generously provided by the Norwegian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the United Nations, the World Bank, the Australian Government, the Dutch Government, and a number of private foundations and donors.
AOAV is implementing a wide range of armed violence prevention and recovery programmes in Burundi, a country still recovering from decades of civil conflict and still roiled by political tension and armed violence. Projects include capacity building for the Burundi Armed Violence Observatory (BrAVO) and the Burundian National Commission for Small and Light Weapons (CNAP in French), psychosocial assistance to armed violence victims, support to groups and individuals advocating for women’s rights and the rights of people with disabilities, and peer counselling and mediation for vulnerable youth and former combatants to prevent election-related violence in 2015.
Peer-based Psychosocial Support to Armed Violence Victims in Burundi
For the past three years, AOAV has been supporting victims of armed violence using the process of peer-based psychosocial assistance. AOAV and the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery (CISR), based out of James Madison University in the U.S., have partnered with a Burundian NGO, the Training Centre for Development of Ex-Combatants (CEDAC), to design and implement a programme that helps heal those traumatised by armed violence. Sixty peer support workers (PSWs) were trained by an experienced trauma counsellor in the peer-based methodology, after which PSWs made regularly scheduled visits to the beneficiaries to offer psychological support. Victims typically suffer from a range of issues, including psychological trauma, extreme poverty, domestic violence, health problems (several with HIV and AIDS), and many experience disabilities.
Beyond one on one counseling and advice, PSWs also play a critical role in referring those in need to other service providers, especially those suffering from severe emotional and psychological trauma, chronic illnesses, or unaddressed disabilities. PSWs have helped link survivors with clinical centers and hospitals to ensure access to needed medicines, treatments, and mobility tools; this includes helping those with HIV to access anti-retrovirus medication and teaching them how to follow the complicated treatment regimen needed to manage the illness.
During the last twelve months of peer-led psychosocial assistance, AOAV and its local partner the Training Centre for Development of Ex-Combatants (CEDAC) have reached 1,550 people through its network of 60 peer support workers and advocacy volunteers (40 women and 20 men). By mid-April, the number of women survivors and women with disabilities who had received psychosocial support well surpassed AOAV’s initial targets, with over 85 percent women and 47 percent with at least one disability.
As part of its monitoring and evaluation process, AOAV and its partners conducted a detailed analysis of the programme’s beneficiaries to determine its impact. The analysis, conducted in the provinces of Bujumbura and Muramvya, uncovered very positive results: 85 percent of the beneficiaries scored in the ‘Recovering’ category, with only 14% in ‘Mild distress’ and 1% in the ‘Severe distress, possible suicide risk’ category.
At the beginning of the year, Bujumbura was struck by severe flooding; many beneficiaries were displaced and lost their belongings, hindering their healing at a sensitive time in their recoveries. However the PSWs reacted quickly to the disaster, mobilizing to provide additional counseling to those most in need and engaging local government officials to ensure the beneficiaries’ needs were met. By February, AOAV and CEDAC began receiving requests to expand its peer-to-peer support programme to other zones, and thereafter deployed PSWs to Shambo (Muraya), Gatbo (Kiganda), Nyarunazi (Rutegama) and Buhangura (Mbuye).
Reintegration of Armed Violence Victims in their Communities
In addition to supporting individual victims, AOAV and the CEDAC PSWs have also been encouraging beneficiaries to join and participate in peer groups to break down the isolation and social stigma many victims faced in their daily lives. Some of these groups have begun to form Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILCs), through which the members can take out affordable loans and access funds in case of severe financial emergencies. Other peer associations have even sought (and received) formal registration in the commune so they further establish the SILCs and possibly provide other services to its members.
Already, the value and impact of forming peer associations has become apparent. Many beneficiaries have now become informal peer supporters to others, reaching out to new victims and vulnerable members of their communities to offer support and informal counseling. Other participants have felt increasingly empowered to pursue economic opportunities. In the Kinama commune, 12 women have started small businesses selling fruits and vegetables, while others are building on their talents by starting an embroidery business, producing and selling decorative bed sheets and have offered other beneficiaries to teach them the trade.
AOAV and its partners are committed to ensuring those who have received counselling in the past are on a sustainable path to
recovery. As part of this commitment, AOAV facilitates outreach activities among current and past beneficiaries, linking those still in distress with those further along the path to recovery. In April, for example, previous and current participants gathered together and with a combination of songs and dances, opened a joint community meeting. Various women shared their stories, frequently expressing immense gratitude to their peer support workers, many of whom were present at the event. One woman in particular, who has a leg disability and rarely left her home prior to counselling, was quoted as saying “I am alive and here today because of my peer support worker”. Other women, some of whom are HIV positive, ex-combatants or deal with other trauma, spoke of childhood talents reinvigorated through advice gained during counselling sessions, which they are using to generate income.
Some women said that small loans from neighbours, equivalent to six U.S. dollars, were all that was necessary to start a vegetable stand or sell soft drinks and soup from their homes. After the testimonies ended, former and current beneficiaries ceremoniously concluded with more group singing and dancing, leaving the participants with a greater sense of commitment and solidarity.
Supporting Advocacy Efforts for Armed Violence Victims, People with Disabilities, and People Living with HIV/AIDS
To raise awareness on the vulnerability of armed violence victims, people with disabilities, and those living with HIV/AIDS and the particular challenges they face, AOAV has been supporting advocacy efforts by people personally impacted by these issues, helping enhance their voices in policy debates and ensuring their rights are respected.
In the first half of 2014, AOAV and CEDAC have trained sixty people facing some (or even all) of these challenges on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment; this is in addition to previous sessions provided on human rights, disability rights and advocacy skills and tactics. These sixty individuals later divided themselves into different geographic and thematic groups, and launched advocacy campaigns on their areas of interest. However, all the groups cooperated in an effort to advocate on the rights of people with disabilities, pushing the Burundian government to ratify the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). They launched a letter writing campaign in support of the ratification of the CRPD as well as education rights, with letters sent to the President of the Republic of Burundi, the Ministry of National Solidarity, Gender and Human Rights, the Ministry of Education and other non-governmental human rights organizations. These efforts all contributed to the successful ratification of the CRPD by the Government in March 2014.
Following the ratification of the CRPD, AOAV and CEDAC coordinated two round table sessions with 20 civil society leaders, the international community and government representatives, to debate and agree on several immediate actions that could be taken to promote greater inclusion of people living with disabilities in Burundian society. Some of the leading individuals trained by AOAV and CEDAC actively participated in the sessions, focusing on their personal experiences and challenges and those of their fellow citizen advocates. In line with the CRPD’s principles, the discussion targeted education, employment, general inclusion and the election process. In addition, a television debate was organized (by CEDAC) where the permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Solidarity, CEDAC, the Union of Disabled People of Burundi and the Burundian Network of Disabled People Associations, in which the participants discussed proposals for short term actions the government and other institutions could take to implement the CRPD.
Beyond the round table discussions and televised debate, by March 2014 AOAV had supported the creation of seven radio spots that were eventually broadcast on 3 well known radio stations (Isanganiro, Rema FM and RPA), the themes of which were discussions on the CRPD, education needs for people living with disabilities (especially women), accessibility to public services including HIV care, and reducing stigma around disability. The radio spots also served as a reminder that women should not be defined by their disabilities, a message appropriately communicated during the International Women’s Day. In April, two additional radio spots were broadcast, advocating for the rights of disabled people to participate in social and athletic activities and for the right to access public transportation. The spots were reinforced with an awareness campaign aimed at bus drivers and passengers, asking them to assist and respect persons with disabilities. It included the distribution of 100 stickers that were placed on buses encouraging users to give priority and assistance to persons with disabilities.
Late in 2013, a song contest was launched by CEDAC to raise awareness on the rights of armed violence survivors and of people with disabilities. The song “We Are Able” was selected as the winner; it was written and sung by an AOAV supported advocacy group made up of women and men with disabilities. The song was then recorded in a professional studio and has since been used during radio spots. Another talented beneficiary named Georgette, who advocates in the Muramvya province, participated with her photo in a photo contest organised by the French Institute in Burundi on the theme “Women in resistance”; her photo was exhibited at the Institute during the month of March.
A workshop was also held with local government and security officials in Muramvya to increase their understanding and engagement in the protection of girls and women living with disabilities in their districts. Posters were also distributed to schools and administration offices to sensitize the population on their role to play in the safety of vulnerable women.
To better illustrate and publicise the issues facing these vulnerable groups and to promote the incredible work of the peer support workers, AOAV produced and distributed a short documentary film on the subject.
Strengthening the Burundi Armed Violence Observatory (BrAVO)
Over the past six months, AOAV continued bolstering the Burundi Armed Violence Observatory (BrAVO), a collaborative effort by government and civil society to share and analyse data on armed violence in an effort to better understand the issue and develop recommendations for addressing the problem. The first stage of establishing BrAVO was officially completed on 3 April 2014, when the Terms of Reference – which had been developed and negotiated over the preceding six months – were signed by nearly all of the participating entities and the Data Collection Unit (DCU) set up, including staffing, procurement of equipment, and creation of an electronic database. The following are now official members of the BrAVO:
In addition to the official launch of the BrAVO, AOAV collaborated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia and its own policy department to review the data collection and record keeping methodologies of the BrAVO members in order to develop an integrated, standard approach. Previously, when CNAP was the sole entity reporting on armed violence, Microsoft Excel and Access were used to insert data, which was less reliable and difficult to use for analysis. However, AOAV helped the BrAVO develop a more reliable and improved database, followed by providing training to the Data Collection Unit on its use. The database is now updated daily. In addition, a harmonized and consistent data collection form was developed in French and Kirundi. AOAV conducted a workshop to the members of BrAVO on 3 April to launch the new data collection processes and train the partners on the validated data collection form, as well as elect the representatives of the BrAVO’s Analysis and Validation Units. In June, AOAV provided further training in data analysis and interpretation. The first official report of the new BrAVO will be published in July.
Supporting non-violence for vulnerable Burundian youth
Building on its experience of peer support with survivors of armed violence, including ex-combatants and people with disabilities, AOAV adapted its psychosocial support model to engage vulnerable youth with a particular focus on men aged between 18-35, who are especially vulnerable to engaging in violence. In addition to peer-based counselling, the approach is complimented by community dialogue and mediation activities, all in an effort to reduce the risk of vulnerable youth engaging in violence. This is especially critical as tensions mount in the run up to national elections in 2015; past experience has shown that ex-combatants and youth are most vulnerable to manipulation by political parties for purposes of violently intimidating their opposition.
This new project was launched in June 2014, with 20 new peer support workers, all young Burundians, trained and mobilised to begin engaging youth and ex-combatants in high risk/hot spot areas. 500 participants have been selected, of which 109 are ex-combatants, 322 members are members of political youth leagues, and the remaining 69 are considered at high risk of taking part in violence. The peer support workers will offer counselling support, life skills, and vocational training to these 500 vulnerable individuals as well as organize at least half a dozen community dialogue and mediation sessions. With additional funding, AOAV would widen the scope of the programme to include more participants and to add more income generating activities, as many members of these vulnerable groups are driven to engage in political violence in exchange for small cash rewards by immoral politicians.
AOAV has been working to reduce armed violence and support the recovery of its victims for nearly a decade in Liberia, helping the country recover from the vicious civil war that killed between 150,000 and 250,000 Liberians. Over the last six years, AOAV has helped 2,653 former combatants and vulnerable youth by providing them with the skills – technical and psychosocial – to reintegrate into their communities and pursue legal, sustainable livelihoods. AOAV has also led the establishment of the Liberian Armed Violence Observatory (LAVO), the first observatory in Africa specifically focused on collecting and analysing armed violence data and developing recommendations on how reduce armed violence. AOAV has also been building the capacity of local institutions, including the army, police, and small arms and light weapons commission, to better address the problem of armed violence themselves, including the identification and destruction of harmful explosive remnants of war (ERW), which remain littered across the country following the end of the civil war.
Institutionalizing the Liberian Armed Violence Observatory (LAVO)
The LAVO held a strategic retreat in early February, where it finalised its 5-year strategic work plan. Vivian Dogbey, representing the Liberia National Commission on Small Arms (LiNCSA), was elected the new Chair, and Philip M Kollie, representing the West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), was elected Co-Chair. The LAVO later relocated from AOAV’s office to the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation (KAICT) in April, further establishing itself as a fully independent local institution devoted to armed violence analysis and research.
In June, experts in epidemiology and injury surveillance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) participated in an exchange visit to the LAVO, where they helped finalise a standard abstraction and reporting form, develop an updated database with built-in data validation, and trained data providers and secretariat staff in the use of these tools. The aim was to reduce the amount of time spent on manual data entry and validation, particularly in identifying incidents of armed violence in hospital records, as well as to improve the LAVO’s ability to analyse data. LAVO secretariat staff were also equipped with the ability to train new data providers, as well as re-train current data providers in the new tools.
The Liberian Armed Violence Observatory (LAVO) trend report on armed violence is scheduled for release on 17 July; it is expected to be launched at a public event with dozens of government officials, civil society, and media members to be in attendance. The report, the second report written by the LAVO without AOAV assistance, analyses incidents of armed violence over the last year of data collection to determine whether or not armed violence has decreased, increased, or remained the same.
Supporting Reform of Liberia’s Firearms Control Act
In February, AOAV facilitated a two-day workshop with the Liberia National Commission on Small Arms (LiNCSA), bringing together leading stakeholders from the security sector to discuss reforms to the National Firearms Control Act. Reform of the Act is crucial, as Liberia has concrete obligations under the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons (adopted in 2006), but its current legal framework does not fully incorporate the obligations called for under the Convention. LiNCSA was the clear choice to lead this type of workshop, as it has statutory responsibility to formulate and implement policies that curtail proliferation, illicit, manufacturing, trafficking, and distribution of small arms and light weapons (SALW).
During the workshop, stakeholders from 25 local and international institutions, including the Office of the Legal Counsel of the President and the Ministries of Justice, Foreign Affairs, and Defense, state security institutions such as UNPOL and other international stakeholders such as UNDP and ICRC attended the workshop. Topics under consideration for incorporation into the Act included what weapons should be registered, who should be able to possess firearms, whether or not foreigners can import and export arms, and the joint functions of LiNCSA and the Liberia National Police (LNP).
To take advantage of the momentum coming out of the workshop, AOAV’s international expert consultant provided clear recommendations on drafting new legal provisions for the Act. Her advice was based on the input of the participating stakeholders and international best practice. AOAV then facilitated review meetings between LiNCSA and other stakeholders and the Acting Minister of Justice in late April to discuss the recommended changes and amendments to the draft, which was finalised and submitted to the Ministry of Justice. It is now being reviewed by Justice, and is expected to be formally presented to parliament sometime in 2014.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Project
With financial support from UNOPS, AOAV has been conducting explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) training with the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), as well as instructing the Liberian National Police (LNP) in explosive remnants of war (ERW) awareness. In the first half of 2014, AOAV continued to train members of the AFL and LNP in identifying, destroying, and reporting on explosive items with support from the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS). 16 new students from the AFL were instructed in EOD Level 2 training; all graduated successfully after eight and a half weeks of training. All 31 EOD Level 2 trained officers (15 from the first class of students trained in 2013) participated in an extension course in May, with topics including fuse function, remote UXO pulling, surface BAC and range clearance, EOD report writing and the use of EOD log books. Since graduating, trained AFL officers have begun to respond to UXO threats throughout Liberia, with mentoring support from AOAV advisors. AOAV is currently working with the Liberian government to populate a database of historical UXO activity in Liberia, which will help officials better understand which regions are most likely to have unaddressed ERW contamination; this information will help the government and put in place preventative measures, including mine risk education for the local population.
In May, 50 LNP officers completed 2-day trainings on ERW awareness and reporting; the syllabus will serve as a model for future, non-academy based, in-service training by the Mobile Training Team and Monrovia Police Zones instructors.
Completion of the Youth, Employment, Skills (YES) Project
In 2012 and 2013, AOAV trained nearly 1,000 Liberian students in agriculture, social skills, and managing conflict peacefully on behalf of the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MOYS) at four training sites in Bong, Nimba, Sinoe, and Montserrado Counties. Unlike previous courses undertaken by AOAV where self-employment was the end goal for graduates, the focus of the Youth, Employment, and Skills (YES) project was to place graduates into the formal employment sector. After discussions with several large oil palm concession holders operating in Liberia, it was anticipated that the vast majority of the trainees would be able to secure employment in this expanding sector. Unfortunately, at the time the students began their courses the concession holders came under increasing pressure from the local population and for the most part expansion of cultivated land ceased, with many employees subsequently made redundant. As a result there were few opportunities for employment for graduates, though a handful did secure permanent positions.
In 2014, AOAV received a grant from the Liberian Ministry of Youth and Sport to support those graduates unable to secure employment with reintegration packages to start their own small businesses or collectives. After identifying more than 300 graduates from the training programmes who did not receive their anticipated offers of employment, AOAV distributed the packages – which include provision of tools, seeds, and start-up funding – throughout the month of April. Ongoing monitoring of graduates will continue to ensure that they have the support needed to start their own enterprises.
Suspending Community Strengthening Projects in Monrovia
Due to funding limitations, AOAV was forced to close its two Youth Drop-in Centres in West Point – a poor urban community on the outskirts of the capital, Monrovia – continue to provide workshops and training to vulnerable youth twice each week. By the end of 2013, 37 workshops had been held with an attendance of 1,084 young people and a retention rate of 72%. The Conflict Transformation Teams (CTTs), made up of 28 local peace builders trained by AOAV, had deescalated or mediated 246 conflicts, of which 47 involved armed violence and 31 involved physical violence. The Conflict Transformation Teams have continued to operate in West Point independently due to the support and commitment of the communities and volunteers themselves. AOAV is currently looking for new funding to continue expanding the scope and impact of its drop-in centres and CTTs in West Point and other vulnerable communities in and around the capital Monrovia.
Action on Armed Violence has been working in Sierra Leone since 2012, focusing on addressing the continuing supply and use of illegal firearms in the country. AOAV’s national survey on armed violence, published in early 2013, galvanized local stakeholders as to the seriousness of the armed violence problem in Sierra Leone; many had grown complacent nearly ten years after the end of the country’s civil war. The national survey also revealed that locally-made guns produced by unlicensed blacksmiths were a significant source of armed violence in the country; there was also evidence that some of these weapons were being illegally exported into neighbouring Guinea and Liberia.
Encouraging Alternatives to Producing Illicit Firearms
As part of its national armed violence assessment for Sierra Leone, conducted in 2012, AOAV identified the manufacture of illicit firearms by local blacksmiths as a potential contributor to armed violence in the country. With many weapons collected and destroyed under a UN-led disarmament programme following the end of the country’s civil war, blacksmiths have found a market for poorly produced but cheap and generally effective firearms. AOAV is working with at least 20 of these blacksmiths in 2014 to encourage them to pursue alternative, legal livelihoods.
At the end of 2013, AOAV procured blacksmiths’ tools and began designing a training package for the participants in the pilot programme. Training sites were identified at Kenema, Bo, and Makene, with each site to have its own instructor and classroom. The training has been delayed due to travel restrictions related to the Ebola outbreak; it is expected to commence in August.
Those blacksmiths identified by AOAV as interested in legally registering with the Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms (SLeNCSA) as licensed gunsmiths will be informed of their legal obligations with regard to the Arms and Ammunition Act, and encouraged to complete either the registration process or cease producing firearms.
Facilitating the Development of an Armed Violence Observatory in Sierra Leone
The development of an Armed Violence Observatory (AVO) in Sierra Leone continued, with a multi-stakeholder meeting facilitated by AOAV and held in February. Representatives from seventeen organisations attended, including several new participants from the Ministry of Youth, the Human Rights Commission, and the statistics office for Sierra Leone. AOAV’s new Project Manager travelled to Liberia to meet with representatives from the LAVO – as well as the Liberia National Police (LNP), the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding, and the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation – in order to identify best practices and lessons learned from the LAVO, which are now being shared with Sierra Leonean stakeholders.
AOAV engaged a media expert to develop a communications strategy for promoting armed violence reduction activities, raise awareness in communities, and build interest and commitment among stakeholders to the AVO. In May, AOAV facilitated a one-day media workshop in Freetown for journalists to discuss the role of the media in highlighting the effects of armed violence in Sierra Leone. Key media institutions, including the Awareness Times, CTN Radio, Premier Media, Concord Times, and Exclusive Newspaper, were in attendance. The session was interactive and the media institutions present expressed interest in getting involved and supporting the establishment of an AVO for Sierra Leone. Topics discussed by attendees include government measures to prevent armed violence, the importance of data to inform responses to armed violence, gang and clique violence, and sensitizing urban and rural communities.
AOAV also facilitated a one-day community sensitisation workshop in Bo, which was identified in the Sierra Leone Armed Violence Baseline Report as having the highest rates of reported violence in the country. Representatives from key government agencies attended, including the Provincial Secretary Office, the Office of National Security, Government Information Service, the Sierra Leone Police, Bo District Council, the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces, Immigration Department, Bo State Prison, Sierra Leone Broadcasting Company, as well as the University of Sierra Leone, civil society, political actors and commercial industry. Attendees discussed the issues and drivers of violence in Bo, particularly justice, drug use, family dynamics, lack of education and employment among youth, and failure of communities to report these incidents. Participants felt the workshop was useful and should be organised more frequently in Bo as well as in additional districts, as it helped key stakeholders understand the extent of the problem and encouraged future collaboration to better address the issue at the local level. Furthermore, participants agreed to form a voluntary observatory group exclusively for Bo which will help to monitor and report on incidents of armed violence in the city.
Supporting the Marking and Tracing of Weapons in Sierra Leone
The Sierra Leone weapons marking and computerisation programme, managed by the Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms (SLeNCSA), was launched in March with AOAV’s support. Utilizing two Dot Preen marking machines provided by AOAV to the Government of Sierra Leone in 2013, the weapons marking and computerisation programme aims to mark all state and civilian owned weapons with identifying registration codes, which will aid law enforcement agencies investigating gun related incidents. It will also ensure that civilians who produce or purchase weapons are able to do so in compliance with the law.
The marking process involves a systematic embossment of unique, identifiable information including the ECOWAS logo, Sierra Leone country code, security agency code, weapons serial number, and date of marking on all firearms belonging to Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), Sierra Leone Police (SLP), and civilians. This information is then serially input into the National Arms Register. AOAV has also provided SLeNCSA with spare parts for the marking machines and two sets of diesel generators to ensure the continuity and sustainability of the weapons marking exercise. Additionally, AOAV provided training to SLeNCSA staff by an IT expert from the Ghana National Commission on Small Arms and Light Weapons in the use of the equipment. Following the registration of state-owned weapons, nationwide marking and tracing of civilian-owned weapons is expected to start in July 2014.
Over the past six years, AOAV has been identifying and destroying mines, cluster bombs, and unexploded ordnance in land contaminated by explosive remnants of war (ERW) in Western Sahara. Over this time, AOAV has helped reduce the number of fatalities amongst the Saharawi communities and cleared land for arable and pastoral workers. In total, since September 2011 AOAV has cleared 11,781,919 square meters of land in the eastern part of the territory, removing over 9,300 explosive items. To help build local institutions and transfer responsibility for mine action to national ownership, AOAV has been building the capacity of the personnel of the newly create Saharawi Mine Action Coordination Centre (SMACO), the national coordinating body for mine action of the Polisario. Finally, given the difficult situation facing the victims of the Saharawi conflict, many of whom live in refugee camps in Algeria, AOAV provides support for victims and survivors in partnership with the Saharawi Association for the Victims of Mines (ASAVIM).
Leading Demining Efforts in Western Sahara
AOAV and its South Africa based partner Mechem continued to conduct clearance of contaminated areas in the southern Mijek region and the northern Mehaires region of Western Sahara using its dedicated battle area clearance team and manual and mechanical demining teams. Mechanical assets achieved an impressive clearance average per day when in operation; the Mine Wolf flail device averaged 3,686m2 and two Vehicle Mounted Mine Detection System (VMMDS) were able to survey on average 36,409m2 per day, marking mines to later be cleared by manual operators. AOAV’s Multi-Tasking Teams (MTTs) made up of local Saharawi deminers and international technical advisors were able to clear 403,640m2 between January and the end of June, averaging 1,826m2 per day. In the first half of 2014, AOAV’s 24/7 Emergency Response Team (ERT) successfully responded to 2 ERW incidents.
By the end of June, with the demining season ready to close for the months of July and August due to extreme temperatures, AOAV was finalizing the land release process on the land it had cleared in the Mijek region of Western Sahara. Working together with the SMACO and the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre (MACC), AOAV is on the verge of releasing 3,675,556 m2 of land it has conducted technical surveys and/or manually cleared, and another 46,300,000m2 released following non-technical survey. With assistance from AOAV, the SMACO will finish certifying the process, and subsequently release the land back to the local population to be used for transportation, housing, and animal husbandry, the main livelihood of Saharawi living in the region.
AOAV is currently providing an ERT function for Western Sahara east of the berm during the months of July and August. Meanwhile, it is competing for a new, three-year contract with UNOPS to continue its mine action programme in Western Sahara through 2017. AOAV expects to learn if it was successful in its bid by August 2014.
Strengthening Saharawi Institutions Addressing Landmines and other ERW
Since early 2013, AOAV has been the key catalyst in the establishment of the Saharawi Mine Action Coordination Office (SMACO), the POLISARIO body responsible for overseeing all mine action in Western Sahara east of the berm. AOAV is currently in Phase Two of its capacity building project (lasting from April to December 2014), during which AOAV is developing the skills of the SMACO and helping it finalize its National Mine Action Strategy (NMAS) to ensure effective monitoring and oversight of mine action work on the ground in the POLISARIO-controlled zones.
Over the past six months, AOAV has developed a technical curriculum for the SMACO which involves building the capacity of its general support staff as well as its specialized technical function, led by its Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) Officer. AOAV is providing training and hands on mentoring to management and support staff in financial, logistics and administrative management, helping SMACO officials participate effectively in international training and events,including the Seventeenth International Meeting of Mine Action National Programme Directors and UN Advisors in Geneva, Switzerland. AOAV has also helped SMACO plan and host visits by international delegations to Western Sahara to see demining operations east of the berm in order to better understand the scope of the problem, which could lead to increased international financial support for demining in Western Sahara.
Survivors’ Cooperatives in Western Sahara
The first cooperative to receive funding from the Besom Foundation included five members, who decided to start a livestock business. The grant allowed the cooperative to purchase fifteen sheep, which they plan to sell during the celebrations at the end of the month of Ramadan. They have also used the funds to construct a pen to hold their livestock and purchased grass as fodder. Cooperative member Brahim Abidin Ibrahim expressed his gratefulness for the grant they received by stating, “Such initiatives are forcing us not to stay at home, but to be part of a productive and active society.”
The second cooperative, also made up of five members, entered the livestock trade as well by purchasing thirteen sheep and setting up a stable with their grant. By mid-July five of the sheep had already been sold.
Over the past two years, AOAV has helped ASAVIM conduct a survey and needs assessment for victims and survivors of ERW and develop a database of survivors, which now numbers over 1,390 individuals. Working from the database, AOAV and ASAVIM designed a grant and capacity building programme for Saharawi victims’ cooperatives. In 2013, AOAV supported 27 cooperatives (consisting of 115 survivors and approximately 460 indirect beneficiaries), through its micro-grants project, supporting a wide range of income generating activities including livestock rearing and trading, commerce and agriculture. In the second half of 2013, AOAV also began transitioning previous beneficiaries from a grant-based system to a partial repayment programme, in which 20 percent of the funds provided needed to be repaid and later recirculated to other cooperatives.
In 2014 AOAV received a generous donation from the Besom Foundation, which allowed AOAV and ASAVIM to support three cooperatives to start their own income-generating activities. The three cooperatives selected were from three different refugee camps in Algeria: Dakhla Camp, Smara Camp and Auserd Camp. Details on the cooperatives can be found in the Highlights section below.
With the funding it received, the third cooperative started a phone card-selling business whereby they buy and re- sell phone cards for a profit. They also purchased ten sheep and have already re-sold six of them for a profit of 1000-1500 Algerian Dinar per sheep (approximately £7 to £11). “As our cooperative just started, we are meeting and working hard every day, this is increasing solidarity amongst survivors, amongst us, and this will lead for sure to the success of our work,” said Moh Salem Ibrahim Leibeid, the Head of the Third Cooperative.
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