Monitoring Visit to ‘Clear then Grow’ Project in Syria
In mid-October, ITF with its local partners in Northeast Syria (NES) organized a monitoring visit for the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), who is the key financial supporter of the project. A 10-day visit was attended by a representative from the ADA, two ITF project managers and a world renowned photographer Arne Hodalič, who captured moving images of the monitoring visit.
During the visit, we attended a number of meetings with key program stakeholders to gain important perspectives on the activities supported by ITF and its partners, and the model of implementation. The meetings also included encounters with the Humanitarian Affairs Office, the newly established NES Mine Action Center, relevant city councils and commune representatives. Full support and gratitude for the ongoing humanitarian mine action activities and agricultural support have been expressed in strong terms several times, confirming the pertinence of the project.
The visit entailed an opportunity to observe battle area clearance teams in their daily working routine in areas commonly known as Syria’s breadbasket. The program’s focus on former farmlands that are contaminated with various explosive hazards and thus unusable, poses specific challenges to the searchers and clearance teams, and requires a specific operational approach. We are pleased to have had the opportunity to learn more about the standard operating procedures and gain first-hand experience through an interactive exercise, demonstrating a segment of explosive ordnance disposal experts’ work.
In order to prevent future UXO accidents that can be fatal, adults and children from various at-risk communities, are given the opportunity to participate in the EO risk education sessions provided in different local settings, such as schools, community spaces, in people’s homes or gardens. Particular focus is devoted to children who are most at-risk from accidents, so that they are able to safely move around the village. Other social groups are equally included with messaging adjusted to the specific target audience each time. The goal is for all the participants to gain a better understanding of the dangers present and safe behaviour, as well as to eventually pass on the knowledge about the do’s and don’ts living next to a contaminated area. During the visit, we were able to observe a very interactive session delivered to schoolchildren in a local school.
Throughout the field visit, we also visited locations where explosive hazards clearance works have already been completed. Various agricultural support activities for farmers and other at-risk social groups are starting there to address the needs of those whose livelihoods have been affected by ISIS’s occupation and ensuing destruction. By first clearing land and then supporting local populations in their agricultural activities, they will be able to tilt land again after several years of neglect due to contamination, conflict, and economic crisis. During the visit, 50 of the most vulnerable farmers – both male and female – were in training on modern approaches to barley and wheat growing to improve their knowledge and the success rate of growing their crops. The participants and village elders repeatedly stated that the needs of farmers and IDPs living in the area remain enormous, and have even been increasing with the recent droughts, lack of drinking water and rising agricultural inputs prices.
The visit was highly relevant as together with the representatives of ADA we were able to gain local perspectives and engage in meaningful exchange with the local communities. We observed the complexities and the challenges that characterize the environment, as well as the gratitude of the communities we work with. Information gained confirmed the significance of the project’s approach and its value to the local communities, which will be used to feed into future funding requests and proposals. The financial support for the ‘Clear then Grow’ project is generously provided by the Austrian Development Agency, the Knights of Columbus and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia.