Landmine Removal in Sudan Frees Land for Agriculture

Me and Mark (UNMAO) at mine removal site outside of Juba, March 2009

UNMAO’s Mark Argent and I at mine removal site outside of Juba near E. Rejaf. Notice the MineWolf in upper left of photo. (March 2009)

[Montréal, Québec, Canada -2°C] In a previous post from Juba, Southern Sudan, I wrote about a UNICEF managed and CIDA-funded Mine Risk Education (MRE) programs. I visited program sites where local NGOs taught children and their elders about landmines that remain hidden near their villages. At the time, there were still more known minefields to clear than there were teams trained to clear them so the clearing process would take time. In the meantime, villagers are taught how to recognize landmines or unexploded ordnances and avoid them to remain safe until the dangers are cleared by the United Nations Mine Action Office (UNMAO).

A few days after an MRE visit, Mark Argent (UNMAO) brought me to a different site outside of Juba in E. Rejaf where landmines were actively being cleared by a team of trained mine-removal personnel and a MineWolf machine that, to me, resembles a snow blower. We drove 100 metres past the minefield to a demarkated area adjacent to where landmines were being cleared. This safe area is outlined by a boundary of white-tipped sticks, within which the mine-removal teams prepare their equipment before entering the minefield, take breaks, debrief and where the UN ambulance vehicle parkes at the ready in case of injury.

MineWolf clearing minefiled near Juba, Southern Sudan. (March 2009)

MineWolf clearing minefiled near Juba, Southern Sudan. (March 2009)

After my debriefing, I was given protection gear to wear (see above photo) that I put on before heading toward the minefield where a team of de-miners were at work. In the back of the minefield, there was a MineWolf actively pounding at the earth, destroying the landmines hidden below the surface.

With minefields still dotting the landscape, farmers are afraid to cultivate the land. When the MineWolf passes over a minefield, it crushes the mines rendering them obsolete. Rarely do the mines explode during this process and when they do, the machine’s driver is rarely hurt due to its design but the machine gets damaged. Once it has passed over an entire field, the MineWolf is transferred to another minefield. At this point, mine-removal teams begin their meticulous work often accompanied with dogs trained to smell explosives.

Safe area is marked by white-tipped sticks planted in the ground to demarkate the area near Juba. (March 2009)

Safe area is marked by white-tipped sticks planted in the ground to demarkate the area near Juba. (March 2009)

Since 2002/2003, landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) have killed or maimed at least 4,119 people in Southern Sudan. During my visit I saw a map in the UNMAO offices that showed a list of over 100 known sites needing to be cleared of landmines. During the rpevious year’s de-mining season, which takes place during the dry season from October to May/June, UNMAO cleared 79 routes and 59 areas. Detecting mines along a road takes time. The slow arduous process moves forward at a spead of about four kilometres per day with a special vehicle that has a pulling mine detector.

Mine removal team returns to safe area after a days work near Juba, southern Sudan (March 2009)

Mine removal team returns to safe area after a day’s work near Juba, southern Sudan (March 2009)

The presence of landmines in post-war Southern Sudan continue to have a serious impact on the South’s ability to develop. Landmines cause road closures, obstruct aid delivery, hinders the return of refugees and prevents farmers from cultivating the land.

In a recently published article, Norweigan People’s Aid presents the Mokindi and Kulipapa communities, located south of Juba, Southern Sudan and their return to cultivation after the land around their village was cleared of landmines. A total of 109 anti vehicle mines, 411 anti personnel mines, 418 Unexploded Ordnance and 28 sub munitions were cleared.

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