Kabul, Afghanistan: When 9-year-old Eimal stepped out of his home in the Panjshir Valley in northeastern Afghanistan, he had no way of knowing that his life was about to change.
He was playing in a field near his home when he stumbled upon what looked to him like a strange toy. But when he reached with his hands to pick it up there was a loud bang and Eimal was thrown several metres across the field, blood seemingly everywhere.
Eimal, who like many Afghans uses only one name, had just picked up one of millions of unexploded landmines scattered all across war-torn Afghanistan — a legacy of more than 40 years of war.
Afghanistan has the unenviable reputation of being among the countries with the most unexploded landmines and other ordnance. According to the United Nations, there are 150 landmine casualties a month in Afghanistan. Eight of every 10 casualties is a child who inadvertently picks up an unexploded ordnance. Some are even made to resemble toys.
Eimal’s father, Ismatullah, rushed his son to a local hospital, which was able to provide only basic first aid. Eimal was quickly transferred to the Italian-run Emergency Surgical Centre for Civilian War Victims in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
The centre treats Afghanistan’s many war wounded. An international organisation, it was founded in 1994 and provides free, high-quality health care to victims of war, whether they be wounded by landmines or caught in the brutal fighting between the country’s warring sides. They also train local medical staff.
Eimal lost his right eye and several fingers on his small hands. He shares his hospital ward with other child victims. Masiullah, a teenager from Wardak province, lost both his legs in a US air strike in October this year.
At the International Committee of the Red Cross’ rehabilitation centre in Kabul, 13-year-old Abdullah is still getting used to his prosthesis. He lost his left leg when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Maymana in northwestern Afghanistan. Abdullah comes regularly to the centre to practice walking with the help of a prosthesis. He is one of 46,194 amputees registered with the ICRC in Afghanistan.
Since the ICRC began its rehabilitation program in Afghanistan in 1988, more than 177,000 people, including more than 46,000 amputees, have been treated at its centers across the country. Among the amputees registered, 77 per cent were landmine victims and 70 per cent of those were civilians.
The harm inflicted by more than four decades of war has been cumulative. Hard statistics are difficult to find and many of the available data are estimates. The total number of children killed is not known. But with a population in which close to 50 per cent are under the age of 20, the losses among the young are tremendous.