Landmine risk awareness and victims assistance programme helps victims regain control over their lives in Egypt

Photo Credits: Giovanni Diffidenti

Mines and explosive remnants of war contaminate a huge portion of Egypt’s Western Desert, affecting an area of about 2,680 square kilometres stretching from Alexandria to the Libyan border and 30 kilometres deep from the Mediterranean coastline.


Only a small portion of mined areas are mapped or marked, and many Egyptians continue to use mine-contaminated land for cultivation and grazing.


At age 30, instead of reaching the peak of his productivity, Abdallah El Sheheby lost his right eye and right hand in a landmine explosion. He was digging a hole in the ground to set up a boiler to prepare a cup of tea, when suddenly a mine exploded. All he remembers is waking up at the Sidi Barani Hospital.


“Ever since that horrible accident of 2007, my life has become messed up,” says Abdallah.  No longer able to run his business, he was forced to close his shop across the border in neighbouring Libya, which was his main source for providing for his wife and three children. His story is one of many of landmine victims in his native Matrouh.


Since 2007, the North West Coast Development Plan and Mine Action project implemented by the Government of Egypt with UNDP support has been overseeing de-mining activities based on clearly identified humanitarian and development needs, and conducting mine risk education and victim assistance activities.


Victim assistance involved rehabilitation services and availing income-generating activities for mine victims and their direct relatives.


Landmine-contaminated areas of Egypt’s North West Coast are predominantly inhabited by Bedouin communities, who were at times reluctant to deal with external entities. The project had to develop a deep understanding of tribal dynamics and the unique cultural setting of the area in order to be able to meet local needs and develop inclusive and participatory victim assistance and economic reintegration strategies.


The project adopted a participatory, bottom-up, consultative approach to engaging mine victims as active drivers of their own development and not merely as beneficiaries of development plans. This approach generated a positive attitude of self-reliance and a genuine feeling of empowerment not only among mine victims but within the community at large. People felt a renewed sense of control over their lives and destinies.


Local consultation prompted the project to launch a microcredit loan programme focusing on women, benefiting a total number of a 100 female mine victims and female relatives of mine victims, which are too often unaccounted for despite their crucial contribution to the financial stability of the family unit.


Abdallah did not stay trapped in his painful tragedy. He enrolled in the necessary training is now part of the mine awareness and support mine victims campaigns run by the project.


He believes that such campaigns help place the issue of landmines high on the political agenda in Egypt, and play an important role in preventing further bloodshed and suffering. Abdallah has recently cofounded an NGO specializing in assisting mine victims.


“Once I finish my training with the project, I will assist my colleagues in the NGO to establish their own income generating projects,” says Abdallah.   


The pilot phase of the Mine Action and Development of the North West Coast Programme spanned five years (2007-2012) with a total budget of US$ 3.15 million. The second phase will launch in 2013.