Monday, September 06, 2010

The Whirlwind of War: The Armless, The Legless, The Blind, The Insane.

"The worst is when we have someone who has lost his legs and his eyes. We have a young man right now who has this." Makay Siawash stops talking for a moment. Then she carries on with all the reasons why up to 8,000 Afghans a year turn for help to the Kabul Orthopedic Organization. This is the agency she runs from a Soviet-era building within the Afghan National Army hospital compound in the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul.

"A lot are from mines, rockets, bombs. But there are also traffic accidents, children who have been blinded, or they are deformed from malnutrition or from some trauma, or malformation during pregnancy. And women, sometimes it is from hard physical activity, or they have been hit by their husbands. We have a lot of children and women. But a lot are from mines."

The young, blind and legless man whose sad story caused Siawash to catch her breath had stepped on one of the Taliban's "improvised explosive devices" of precisely the kind that so routinely kill so many Canadian and other NATO soldiers.

Last year, the organization signed a contract with the Afghan Defence Ministry. Before 12 months was up, Siawash had added more than 1,700 Afghan police officers and soldiers to her client list. "They have lost arms, legs, hands, eyes ..." Usually, though, the organization's clients are civilians.

As often as not, the exploding landmines are left over from the days of the Soviet occupation. Eight out of every 10 amputees registered with the Kabul Orthopedic Organization are the victims of landmine blasts. There are at least 60,000 surviving landmine victims in Afghanistan. Every month, another 60 Afghans are killed or wounded by landmines. This is a drop from roughly 100 landmine casualties a month from only a few years ago. . .

- from the latest essay in my series, running in the Calgary Herald.


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