Glimpses of the fallout

By Esther Williams
British photographer Tim Dickinson has accompanied teams involved in de-mining operations in the Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya, Mannar and Trincomalee districts over the last three months. His photographs of people, places and de-mining activities are a pictorial record of the devastation as well as the reconstruction work being carried out.

Mine action and the consequences of conflict in Sri Lanka, are the focus of 'The Fall-Out', Tim's photographic exhibition now on at the World Trade Centre lobby until April 3.

Nineteen years of conflict have resulted in a large number of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and mines in the northern and eastern districts, directly affecting areas where around 2,500,000 people live. These mines continue to pose a threat, especially at a time when most of the regions are in the process of resettlement.

United Nations Support to Mine Action in Sri Lanka involves a partnership between UNICEF and UNDP. While UNICEF has been providing support to mine risk education and survivor assistance activities, UNDP is in the process of preparing the full assistance project document for UN Support to mine action in Sri Lanka.

The goal of the project is to assist the government to provide a positive environment for mine action; strengthen the local and national capacity to coordinate all aspects of Mine Action and to provide support to humanitarian relief and developmental activities.

UNDP is the major sponsor of the photography exhibition with additional support from Norwegian People's Aid, the European Union and Halo Trust.

Tim was on holiday in Sri Lanka in September, last year, when he accompanied a friend to the north east. He saw large areas razed to the ground and abandoned. The places seemed dead, with no phones, plumbing or electricity.

“Even after six months of the ceasefire, nobody was doing rebuilding or reconstruction,” he says. The most visible projects were the demining activities both by the army and the LTTE with the assistance from NGOs and aid agencies. While in the northeast he made contact with the Norwegian People’s Aid for whom he took photographs of mine action.

Later he offered his service to UNDP. That’s how his involvement with mine action began.

How does mine action work in an area? "The teams initially talk to community members and gather information about people being injured in a particular area; that a certain field has not been used for some time because a cow was blown up there; a woodcutter losing his leg in the woods, etc. By careful observation and colours on the posts they can make out that the arrangement fits a pattern, that the stretches extending sometimes for 10 kilometres follow a marking system,” he says.

While most of the mines were planted several years ago, some were buried shortly before the ceasefire. The majority is triggered by a foot or trip wire. Some have a sensor attached, which can be detonated by remote control. Mines can be detected using a detector or a light Chinese manufactured rake. There are many risks involved in de-mining. Tim was constantly aware of the danger. "You need to have faith in the group that you are working with," he says.

Tim started as assistant to a studio photographer and went on to being an assistant in a dark room.

The next eight years saw him doing hard news for the Express, The Sunday Times, a few pieces for the Sunday Telegraph, The Mail on Sunday and The Press Association in UK. His work has also been featured in magazines such as Paris Match and Time Out.


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