Monday, July 08, 2002

Yemen clears minefields, saving lives and livelihoods

Monday, 8 July 2002: Relying on explosives detecting dogs and rehabilitating and giving vocational training to survivors, Yemen, with support from UNDP and other partners, is overcoming a deadly legacy of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) left by four civil conflicts between 1962 and 1994.

Efforts, begun in 1999, have cleared mines from almost three million square metres of land, with another six million square metres surveyed and found free of mines and safe for use.

Nevertheless, rural communities continue to suffer from these hidden killers, their toll tallied in lives and limbs lost and access denied to land and other essential resources. UNDP, with the Government, the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and donors, leads the move to strengthen Yemen's capability to deal with the crisis.

Donors have contributed more than US$12 million to the effort. They include Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Prime Minister Abdul Kader Bajamal urged donors to continue support for the programme's humanitarian and development efforts at a meeting in Sana'a, the capital, last month.

Mine action is "based on saving lives and supporting livelihoods," UNDP Resident Representative James W. Rawley pointed out. The programme met its objectives for 2001, the first year, and is on track this year. "This is a real success story," said Mr. Rawley.

As a first step, UNDP with support from NGO's, Canada, the United Nations, and the Government of Yemen conducted a national survey to analyze the impact of landmines on individual communities. It revealed that landmines and UXOs affected 592 communities. They have killed or maimed more than 5,000 Yemenis, with over 200 incidents in the past year, according to recent studies.

The survey led to a five-year plan, for 2001 to 2005, giving priority to clearing areas in 14 communities where landmine accidents occurred most frequently and mines blocked access to water sources, farmland, pastures and wood collection.

The Mine Action Programme has doubled in size over two and half years. It has cleared six high priority communities and 44 minefields in all and destroyed more than 57,000 mines and UXOs. The initiative also empowered communities to deal with landmine threats; provided rehabilitation, training and health care for survivors; trained 50 physical therapists; and expanded the ranks of Yemeni deminers from 100 to 800.

A national training centre, began this year under the programme, training four explosives-sniffing dog teams. UNDP emphasizes recruitment and training of Yemenis to manage and carry out the programme.

The programme destroyed the country's remaining anti-personnel landmine stockpile in April in compliance with the Ottawa Treaty, which Yemen ratified in 1999, the first country in the region to do so.

The Government, with support from UNDP, is formulating the second phase of the programme to clear the remaining priority communities, enhance quality assurance, and build the ability of Yemenis to carry out information management, logistics, planning, management and maintenance activities. The annual budget is approximately US$6.6 million.

Sunday, July 07, 2002

Link between poverty and truancy

Children are more likely to skip school if they come from poor families, a study suggests.

Research carried out at Cambridge University found a close link between poverty and truancy among primary school children.

Researcher Ming Zhang says much effort is put into tackling absenteeism among teenagers - but by then it is too late because bad habits have already set in.

The study, carried out at Magdalene College and School of Education, examined statistics on truancy from London boroughs between 1997 and 2000.

It also involved interviews with 90 council education welfare officers and 98 parents on low incomes.

Ming Zhang says the parents who were questioned said they sometimes forgot about their younger children's schooling when they hit money trouble.

"For many people this may be a bizarre excuse for primary school children not to attend school," he said.

"Yet for the families facing financial difficulties, the problem is real."

Mr Zhang, who is the principal education welfare officer in Kingston, believes once children reach secondary schools, other factors, like peer pressure, become more significant in leading children to truant.

'Irresponsible parents'

The study also looked at attitudes to truancy among council officials and parents.

Both agreed that "irresponsible parents" were to blame for truancy and did not link poverty to children missing school.

Nearly half (47%) of council welfare officers canvassed said irresponsible parents were to blame.

Among parents, 44% thought the same.

Among welfare officers questioned for the study, nearly four out of five (78%) said that truancy rates would not be cut by prosecuting parents of truants.

None thought prosecution was the best way to improve attendance.

But parents themselves were slightly more likely to think prosecutions could improve attendance, 10% said this was the best way to improve attendance.

According to the officials questioned, an improvement in parenting skills would do most to curb truancy.

Local councils sometimes go to court to get an order obliging parents to take parenting classes, when other attempts to get children into school fail.

For parents, the most important factors in tackling truancy were professional support for parents and improved parenting skills.

Ming Zhang believes the best way to tackle truancy is to offer low income families welfare support in terms of benefits, job opportunities and access to leisure.

"We need to tackle the problem early," he says.

"Once the problems of truancy become entrenched, other problems come along and they can be harder to deal with."