Rice farmer Shekha Hamed was walking through fields to his own plot of land near the town of Qaladze in the eastern province of Sulaymaniyah, which borders Iran, one dewy morning when he stepped on a mine which blew off the toes on his right foot and tore apart his left leg.
“I didn’t know it was a minefield, there was no demarcation,” he says.
“Suddenly the explosion threw me into the air. I remained conscious, but nobody was around and I just remember this stinging. Farmers stripping gum from trees nearby came and helped me.”
That was 15 years ago. The elderly farmer is lucky to be alive after surgeons amputated his left leg because of the threat of gangrene.
Putting down his walking stick, Hamed is at ease and even smiles as he removes his prosthetic leg while describing how doctors amputated at the knee.
It was with the help of local charity Kord [Kurdistan Organisation for Rehabilitation of the Disabled] that Hamad was able to get an artificial limb, training on how to cope with his injury and physiotherapy.
Kord has treated more than 4,240 victims of landmines and unexploded war munitions in the past 10 years. But as charity director Rebwar Zainadin explains, there is no government support programme for landmine victims and amputees.
“Access for them in buildings and [the community] understanding is very bad. And there’s no national rehabilitation programme,” he says.
“We’ve lobbied the government but have had no luck. Here, individuals need to depend on themselves.”
Another landmine victim at Kord’s centre in Sulaymaniyah explains how he has tried to recover after a similar fate. Mohammed Hassan Abdulla, 60, says: “It was muddy and some people nearby with a donkey heard the explosion and came to me. Other villagers were told not to go there.
“I was transported on a donkey to hospital, I had a surgical operation and they cut the leg off just below the knee.
“When you lose money on property, you can try and replace it. But losing a part of the body changes everything. It’s very difficult. If a person is strong, it will help.
“I was living in very poor conditions but managed to go back to welding water tanks, stoves and car radiators.”
Joking with the doctors at the care centre, Abdulla smiles as he admits that he also has the help of his two wives at home.
* This series was carried out with the help of the Simon Cumbers Media Challenge Fund, supported by Irish Aid