The Silver Lining in the Really Awful 2015 Landmine Casualty Statistics

According to the Landmine Monitor, the de facto monitoring regime of the Mine Ban Treaty, casualties from landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) increased in by 75% in 2015; from 3,695 person killed and injured in 2014 to 6,461 in 2015.  This dramatic increase reversed a decade of progress in which landmine casualties declined thanks to clearance programs, increased awareness and the stigma on use of new mines.

Make no mistake: This is really awful news.  I had an inkling that landmine casualties were likely to increase in 2015 from compiling the monthly news round-ups for the blog, but I had no considered the possibility the increase was so severe.

In Africa the situation is even worse: there were 1,678 landmine and ERW casualties in 2015, an increase of 230% over the 731 casualties reported in 2014.

 

The “Silver Lining”

The increase in casualties was due to active conflicts in four countries: Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, where governments and rebel forces were actively using landmines and cluster munitions in 2015. [The Monitor also notes that Afghanistan, which again had the largest number of casualties in 2015, 1,310 persons killed and injured, is a major contributor to the 2015 casualty totals, but with 1,296 casualties in 2014, there was basically no increase in casualties in 2015]. If you take out the casualties from those four countries – Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen – the number of landmine and ERW casualties reduced by about 10%; from 3,339 in 2014 to 3,016 in 2015.

In Africa, if you exclude the Libyan casualties, landmine and ERW casualties declined by 6%, from 721 in 2014 to 674 in 2015.

 

What this Means

The dramatic increase in landmine casualties can be directly tied to new use of landmines and cluster munitions in the ongoing wars in Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen.  As long as combatants continue to use these weapons, we can expect to see new casualties and when there is new use of mines and cluster munitions we will see increases in casualties.

The armies and rebel groups using mines and cluster bombs in these conflicts are not party to the Mine Ban Treaty, the Convention on Cluster Munitions or Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment.  If they were, then they would be pledged to not use such weapons.  All countries and combatants should disavow these and other inhumane weapons and parties to the Mine Ban Treaty and Convention on Cluster Munitions need to condemn any use.  As we can see from recent developments in the defense industries, the stigma against cluster munition use has prompted several arms manufacturers to discontinue production of these weapons and only a very few countries still produce landmines.  As long as these weapon remain in national stockpiles, they will be used.

 

Every Silver Lining has a Touch of Gray

Several countries in Africa witnessed an increase in landmine and ERW casualties in 2015.  In Egypt, Mali, South Sudan and Sudan, these increases were due to ongoing conflicts (Egypt, Mali and Sudan) and movements of displaced people through mine-affected areas (South Sudan).  Morocco and Namibia also witnessed increases in landmine casualties even though both countries have long been at peace.  Other countries also free from conflict – such as Angola and Zimbabwe – saw reduced numbers of casualties, but still people are dying and being disabled from wars that ended decades ago.  And in Mozambique, which declared itself landmine-free in September 2015, saw three casualties from anti-personnel landmines.  Fortunately, these will be the last landmine casualties in Mozambique, but that is probably little solace to the victims and their families.

 

Michael P. Moore

December 5, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, October 2016

The passing of one of the towering giants of the Cold War, Fidel Castro, has prompted a lot of column inches in other venues.  This past summer I saw some of the impact of Cuba’s military adventurism in Angola but in previous trips I saw Cuban-built hospitals in Vietnam and met Cuban engineers in Denmark.  During Castro’s leadership, Cuba was a country with an outsized impact on the world.  Even before the recent thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba, the United States had removed the minefields that surrounded the military base at Guantanamo Bay and Cuba’s role as mediator in negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels had held out hope for demining progress there.  Cuba recently joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the improving relations between the US and Cuba removed one of the principle excuses Cuba had used to remain outside the Mine Ban Treaty.

 

Angola

A newly discovered minefields was reported in the central province of Bie.  The exact extent of the contamination is not known, but the area had been the scene of fighting during one of Angola’s many periods of fighting in the province (All Africa).

In the northern province of Malanje, the Japanese ambassador to Angola re-affirmed his country’s commitment to Angola’s humanitarian mine action program.  Annually the Japanese government provides US $20 million for demining in Angola (Relief Web).

In the northern Zaire province, the National Demining Institute detonated over 100 explosive remnants of was including eight landmines (All Africa).

The director of Angola’s mine action program estimates that 270 million euros will be required to clear the remaining 1,435 known minefields.  Angola will need international support to meet the Maputo Declaration’s goal of clearing all known minefields by 2025. At present, Angola still needs to complete minefield surveys in eight of the country’s 18 provinces to fully document the extent of contamination (Government of Angola).

 

Somalia

During an attack on Mandera, a town along the Somali-Kenya border, Al Shabaab members planted landmines in the town which have hindered the efforts of the security forces to respond to the attack (All Africa).

In Mogadishu, three suspected Al Shabaab members were killed by the landmine they were trying to plant in a roadway (All Africa).

The extensive use of remote-controlled and victim-activated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has been a major security challenge for the African Union peacekeepers in Somalia.  225 separate attacks have been recorded in 2016 with hundreds of casualties. Victim-activated IEDs, including pressure-plate and magnetic IEDs, are banned by the Mine Ban Treaty (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

The Nigerian army, having ousted Boko Haram from much of northeastern Nigeria is now busy trying to certify the safety of liberated areas.  The army recognizes the threat from landmines and IEDs and once an area has been cleared of explosives, it will be released back to the population (The Eagle).  The governor of Adamawa state acknowledged the threat and fear of landmines during a speech at the United States Institute of Peace. The governor also noted that despite the assurances of the army, many farmers are reluctant to return to their fields (All Africa). Those fears have some validity as less than an hour after the Nigerian army declared a road in Maiduguri safe, a truck struck a landmine injuring several passengers (All Africa).

During the fight against Boko Haram, Nigeria recruited and used local vigilante forces to augment the formal army units.  At least 162 women whose husbands served as vigilantes have been widowed as a result of the fighting, many by landmines, and the Borno state government has committed to providing assistance to those widows (All Africa).

 

Zimbabwe

The national mine action authority is developing a new extension request for its Article 5 mine clearance obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty.  This would be the fifth such extension request and set a new deadline for clearing all known minefields of 2025, matching the global deadline from the Maputo Declaration.  At present, the HALO Trust and Norwegian Peoples Aid are actively demining in Zimbabwe and they will soon be joined by Mines Advisory Group and APOPO (All Africa). Unfortunately, the national commitment to demining appears to be lacking.  For the last several years, the government of Zimbabwe has only allocated US $500,000 for demining and in 2016, that allocation was reduced to US $100,000 (News Day).  The government, in its extension request, should state its commitment to demining and identify national resources to match that commitment.

 

Mali

Multiple landmine incidents were reported in northern Mali. Three Malian soldiers were killed and another injured when their vehicle stuck a mine in the northern Timbuktu region. This accident closely followed an incident in which a Chadian soldier was killed by a landmine in Kidal when his vehicle struck a mine (Fox News). A Tuareg leader from an anti-government faction was killed by a landmine less than 300 meters from a United Nations base in Kidal where he has been meeting with peacekeeping troops (Reuters). Landmines were used as part of an ambush of Malian soldiers in the village of N’Goma Coura in the center of the country.  Four soldiers were killed and seven injured in the attack (Yahoo).

 

Libya

Female parliamentarians in Libya called upon the Italian government and the international community to support demining in the liberated areas of Benghazi (ANSAMed). The Dutch ambassador to Libya pledged one million Euros for demining in Sirte (Libya Observer). Despite the gains made by the government-backed army in Sirte, there are concerns about the insurgent attacks.  A teacher was killed and his family members injured by a landmine on the road from Sirte to Misrata, an area that is supposed to have been liberated from Islamist forces. This was the fifth such explosion on that stretch of road in less than three months (Libya Herald).

Despite the war, students at Benghazi University managed to complete their studies and to celebrate their graduation, they visited the campus which had recently been liberated after a two years’ occupation by Islamic State forces. Demining teams continue to work to clear the campus of explosives, but estimate that only 5% of the booby traps and landmines have been cleared (BBC News).

 

Sudan

Three militia members aligned with the government were killed when their vehicle struck and detonated a piece of unexploded ordnance (All Africa).

 

Egypt

Egypt’s International Cooperation Minister met with Swiss representatives to request support from Switzerland to clear the landmines in the Northwest Desert that remain from World War II (El Balad).

 

Western Sahara

A four-year old child was killed by a cluster munition and two others were injured (Remove the Wall).

 

Michael P. Moore

November 30, 2016

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, September 2016

“Every time I get close to making ends meet, someone moves the ends.”

This is the story of mine action.  We celebrated the 20th anniversary of Lloyd Axworthy’s call for a global treaty to ban anti-personnel landmines (CBC), but we also see the new use of mines in Nigeria and Libya, Yemen and Syria.  The vision of a mine-free world is still possible by 2025, but only if we can stop new use.

 

Nigeria

Two soldiers were killed and six more injured when their truck struck a landmine attributed to Boko Haram. At the time of the blast, the soldiers were returning to their base (All Africa). Another four soldiers were killed and 19 others wounded during an ambush that began when two Nigerian army vehicles hit a landmine (The News Nigeria). In and around the Nigerian army barracks at Bama, which had been captured by Boko Haram but has since been liberated, Nigerian soldiers cleare some 67 landmines and improvised explosive devices (All Africa).

 

Angola

Angola’s new Social Welfare minister, Manuel Gonçalves Muandumba, pledged to continue landmine clearance programs (All Africa). Since the civil war ended in 2002, 3.4 billion square meters of land has been cleared of mines, with almost half a million landmines destroyed.  In addition to mine clearance, thousands of Angolan landmine survivors have benefited from rehabilitation and prosthetic services and 15 million people have received mine risk education (All Africa). In central Bie Province, 350 hectares of land has been cleared so far this year (All Africa). In Malanje province, the Baroness Northover, the British Trade Envoy to Angola, visited UK-funded landmine clearance programs to observe the progress and see the investment opportunities created by demining (British Embassy Luanda).

 

Rwanda

Rwanda cleared the last of its known minefields several years ago, becoming one of the first countries in Africa to be able to declare itself as mine-free.  However, like other mine-affected countries, Rwanda continues to face contamination from other explosive remnants of war (ERW). In southern Rwanda, four boys were collecting scrap metal and one discovered an old hand grenade.  One of the boys played with the grenade, detonating it, killing himself and insuring the other three (All Africa).

 

Sudan

In Darfur, two boys played with a piece of unexploded ordnance.  When the item exploded, one of the boys was killed and the other severely wounded (All Africa).

 

Somalia

A Ugandan soldier serving with the AMISOM peacekeeping mission died after medical evacuation to Kenya.  The soldier had been riding in a convoy that struck a landmine near the town of Barawe.  Three other soldiers were also injured and evacuated (The Nation).  North of Kismayo, a bus struck a landmine in the road killing three civilians (Garowe Online). In Somalia’s capitol, Mogadishu, a landmine placed near the central livestock market detonated killing another three civilians and injuring many more (Garowe Online).

 

Libya

Worth showing a map of Libya here:

libya-cia_wfb_map

There are two ongoing battles in Libya at the moment.  In the east in the city of Benghazi (“Banghazi” in the map above) four soldiers allied with Khalifa Haftar’s army were killed and others injured by a landmine placed by Islamist forces (Libyan Express). West of Benghazi, about half of the way to Tripoli, Haftar’s forces are also fighting Islamists in the city of Sirte (“Surt” in the map above).  Haftar’s demining and engineering brigades are busy trying to clear landmines and explosive traps placed by the Islamists to slow his advance (AAWSAT).  Five soldiers were injured by a landmine and have received treatment (AAWSAT) and the US special envoy to Libya has warned the residents of Sirte not to try to return to their homes until Haftar’s demining teams have cleared the city (Libyan Express).

Michael P. Moore

October 29, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


Blogging Angola: Angola’s Mine-Free Future in Doubt

A landmine-free Angola is possible by 2025, but it will require the international community to re-engage and support demining at a substantially increased level.  Much investment has already been made and equipment should not be left idle. Do recent announcements of funding for landmine clearance in other countries mean that more funds will be made available for Angola?

Angola is, by any measure, one of the most mine-affected countries in the world, but it does not have to remain that way. With the proper investment by the national government and international donors, all of Angola’s 18 provinces could be clear of landmines by 2025.  Three separate groups are engaged in mine clearance: the government of Angola represented by the National Demining Institute, the Border Police, the President’s special unit and the engineering brigades of the Angolan Armed Forces; national NGOs like Terra Mãe and APACOMINAS; and the international NGOs.  Of late, the international NGOs have suffered a significant drop in funding.  All four of the international NGOs that started working in Angola in 1994 are operating at less than full capacity and one, the German firm MgM, has no demining staff at this time.  A fifth organization, DanChurchAid, started working after 1994, but was forced to close operations at the end of 2015 due to lack of funding.

Photo 5-01 Decline

The decline of demining capacity in Angola for the international NGOs; from a presentation by the HALO Trust

Of the three international operators still standing – the HALO Trust, MAG and Norwegian People’s Aid – each faces further funding reductions and commensurate staff cuts.  Across these four organizations, more than 1,100 operational staff have been lost due to funding cuts, leaving less than 500 deminers available for clearance duties. At the same time, a large number of vehicles and demining equipment has been idled for want of personnel to use them.

Photo 5-02 MAG Lot

Vehicles gone idle on MAG’s lot for want of demining teams

And the longer equipment goes idle, the harder it is to keep up because oil dries out, parts rust and drivers leave.

Photo 5-03 HALO Lot

Vehicles and demining equipment gone idle on HALO’s compound for want of clearance teams

The hazard is this: when a mine clearance operator closes down its program in a country, it is almost impossible to re-start it.  The cost of re-establishing a presence is immense, especially because when an operator closes up, all of the equipment is disposed of and the former employees seek jobs elsewhere.  The operator would need to purchase new vehicle, new equipment, re-register with the government agencies, hire staff, secure office space, re-establish relationships that might have been damaged with the mine action authority and train a new cadre of deminers.  All of this takes time.  DanChurchAid, having closed in Angola in 2015, will never come back.  We can calculate the cost of the equipment and personnel, but the costs of the relationships and institutional memory lost are incalculable.

The investment in demining infrastructure has been made in Angola.  Over the years, donor support has built up a massive mine clearance capacity, but continued support is needed to fully use that capacity.

During this trip I saw communities that have been freed of the scourge of landmines and the relief and gratitude was palpable.  Children dressed in their school uniforms on a Saturday to sing their thanks.  Families took time away from the fields – fields they were only able to work because the mines had been cleared from them – to give speeches and cheers for deminers.  Everywhere we went we were welcomed and thanked for working towards a mine-free Angola.

Angola is not an impossible task.  In the next couple of years the first two mine-free provinces, Malanje and Huambo, could be confirmed.  Others will follow if the support continues and is expanded.  The numbers are simple: At current capacity, NPA could finish clearance assignments in 16 years; with double the capacity, NPA could finish in eight years.  MAG could complete clearance in Moxico Province with 15 manual demining teams in 10 years; they have two in the field right now.  HALO currently has 18 teams working and it would take those teams until 2050 to complete its clearance tasks; with the same capacity that HALO had in 2008, the job could be finished in less than a decade. Between the three operators that would mean 11 of Angola’s 18 provinces could be cleared of landmines by 2025 if the investment is right; but the current trend is absolutely in the wrong direction.

Proper investment by donors would not absolve the Angolan authorities of their responsibilities: the Angolan government would need to clear the other 7 provinces to be able to achieve the national commitment to a mine-free Angola by 2025.

The United States and Norway recently created the Global Demining Initiative which has raised $105 million to clear Colombia’s landmines over the next five years.  The US government also committed $90 million over the next three years for landmine and cluster munition clearance in Laos.  The British government has announced additional funding for landmine clearance in Ukraine, Syria and the Falklands. And Japan has announced support for Cambodia. These are all welcome developments and leaves me hopeful for an announcement of support for Angola.

So how much is needed in Angola?  Go ask the operators.  They can tell you.  And these should be your measures when you hear the number: What is a landmine-free future worth?  What is the value of a life lost to a landmine after December 31, 2025?

Michael P. Moore

September 29, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

 


The Month in Mines, August 2016

Syria and Yemen deservedly get the majority of the news about use of cluster munitions and landmines, but North Africa has also seen fairly widespread use of these weapons in the last few years.  Beginning with the Gaddhafi regime’s use to try and hold off the liberation forces encouraged by Arab Spring, through current use by various Islamist groups, new landmine use can be seen in Algeria, Libya, Mali, Tunisia, Egypt and Nigeria.  In Libya and Sudan, government aligned forces have been alleged to use cluster munitions.  The use of these weapons in these ongoing conflicts means that their effects will be felt for years to come, in countries which already faced substantial burdens of explosive remnants of war.

 

Egypt

During World War II, British and German armies laid some 17 million landmines in the western deserts of Egypt, an area that became famous as the tank battle of El Alamein.  Most of those landmines remain in the deserts and until recently have only been a threat to the nomadic communities who make the desert their home.  Two people were killed and three injured by a mine in the Wasy el-Natroun area.  Egypt now has plans to development much of the western desert to take advantage of the natural gas deposits that lie below the surface and has cleared 155 square kilometers of desert of mines (Daily News Egypt), but another actor has also emerged with plans for the minefields: the Islamic State.  According to the former director of Egypt’s Mine Action Center, Fathy el-Shazly, there have been at least ten confirmed reports of jihadists digging up old landmines and repurposing them as improved explosive devices, the first coming in 2004.  The March 2016 landmine blast in the Red Sea area was attributed to repurposed landmines. Newsweek’s story about ISIS using World War II mines is a bit breathless and sensationalized, but points to another danger of abandoned ordnance. To its credit, Newsweek also highlights the poverty of the nomadic communities in the western desert and notes that some of the nomads are tempted to dig up the old mines and sell them as they have no other form of income (Newsweek).

In the Sinai region, where the Egyptian government is fighting a separate Islamist insurgency, a policy captain was killed while chasing insurgents following a firefight and an attempted bombing of an Al-Arish police station (Ahram).

 

Rwanda

When Papias Higiro stepped on a landmine shortly after the genocide and civil war in Rwanda, his life prospects were bleak.  21 years later, Papias has received his first prosthetic leg and can fulfill his dream of walking again and will attend vocational training to become a hairdresser.  This intervention was made possible by the charitable arm of AirTel, a mobile phone company (All Africa).

 

Zimbabwe

The government of Zimbabwe has accused three Zimbabweans living abroad of trying to destabilized the government.  One of the men is accused of threatening to plant landmines on the roads to kill a thousand people (The Herald).

In recognition of Zimbabwe Defence Forces Day, Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, recognized the landmine clearance efforts of the Zimbabwean army, the HALO Trust and Norwegian People’s Aid (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

Nigerian soldiers are clearing landmines and other explosives left by Boko Haram and have arrested five members of the group who are suspected of planting some of the mines (All Africa).  The local Nigerian commanders boasted of a massive demining effort covering the states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, an effort made possible by the purchase and delivery of demining equipment (Vanguard).

 

Chad

Nigeria is not the only country affected by Boko Haram.  Four Chadian soldiers were killed by a Boko Haram landmine near that country’s border with Niger (Reuters).

 

Libya

In Libya, the army under General Haftar, has ousted Islamic State forces from the city of Sirte, but Islamic State laid many landmines and booby traps.  Deminers from the army and from Libya’s intelligence services are now tasked with clearing mines and explosives which have killed over 300 soldiers and injured another 400.  At least four deminers have been killed and another injured trying to clear Sirte.  Five months of clearance work remains in Sirte according to a military spokesman (IRIN News).  To assist the Libyan forces, the Italian government is believed to have deployed special forces to the country to train Libyan deminers (Sputnik News; Ahram).

General Haftar’s army, while calling for assistance with landmine clearance, has also not helped its own cause by using banned cluster bombs.  In official photos published by the Libyan National Army (LNA), army helicopters are shown carrying the munitions, which challenges the LNA’s denial of use of such weapons in Derna and Benghazi (War is Boring).

In addition to the LNA’s cluster bombs, the Islamic State left landmines in Derna city, one of which killed a leader of the Shura Council of Mujahideen, an Islamist group that ousted Islamic State before being besieged by the LNA (Libyan Express).

In Benghazi two soldiers were killed and two more wounded at a checkpoint in the Al Gawarsha district (Libya Observer).  And in Misrata, the local hospital reported three soldiers killed in two separate incidents, both attributed to Islamic State landmines (Libya Observer).

Of course, the extensive use of landmines can also backfire as seen in Sirte when an Islamic State member tried to drive an explosive laden car into Al Bunyan Al Marsoos positions and struck a landmine laid by Islamic State forces, destroying the car and causing no casualties beyond the driver (Libyan Observer).

 

Tunisia

Three Tunisian soldiers were killed and seven more injured by an anti-tank landmine in the western region of the country, near the Algerian border.  The mountainous region has been a hideout for militants since the start of Arab Spring in 2011 (Press TV).

 

Algeria

The Algerian army cleared 866 landmines dating back to the liberation war against the French.  This was part of the ongoing clearance work along the borders of the country.  Algeria is also facing a current threat from Islamist groups that are fighting against the government and the army.  In the last year and a half, Algerian has killed or arrested hundreds of suspected Islamists and the government claims that the Islamists have mostly been defeated and the government is now trying to consolidate its position and make the affected areas safe for the population.  The government reported the seizure of two landmines that were believed to have been intended for use along the country’s roads.  In just such an incident, four civilians were killed when their vehicle struck a mine attributed to Islamist groups (Strategy Page; Defence Web).

 

Michael P. Moore

September 26, 2016

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


Anti-Vehicle Mines, Still a Thing

Later this year, the Fifth Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) will take place and for another year, nothing will be done to curb or regulate the use of anti-vehicle landmines, or Mines other than Anti-Personnel Mines (MOTAPM) in treaty parlance. The humanitarian impact of these weapons is clear. In the first six months of 2016, 84 people were killed and 136 injured by anti-vehicle mines in 17 different states and territories (GICHD-SIPRI).

Photo 3-06 9 Mines

Anti-tank mines laid by the Angolan army and waiting demolition by the HALO Trust

From August 31 to September 2, the CCW members held a preparatory meeting for the Review Conference and anti-vehicle mines came up as an issue.  According to Reaching Critical Will, Ireland called for continuing work by a group of government experts to discuss the anti-vehicle mines and the applicability of international humanitarian law on these weapons, especially in terms of detectability and limiting the humanitarian harm they cause. Several states supported the Irish proposal, but several opposed the continuation of the group of experts.  The Russian delegation went as far as to say that a detectable anti-vehicle landmine would lose its military value and be pointless (Reaching Critical Will).  I don’t agree with the first part of the Russian statement, but I support the idea that anti-vehicle landmines are pointless, detectable or otherwise.

In advance of the preparatory meeting, GICHD published the report from a November 2015 meeting on anti-vehicle mines which served as some of the context for the meeting. One of the most interesting points to me from the November meeting was a statement from the HALO Trust about its demining work in Somaliland.  According to the Trust, many of the landmines in Somaliland are minimum metal content anti-vehicle mines which are very hard to detect and require slower, manual demining methods.  Had the mines been detectable, Somaliland could have been mine-free in 2012 and the international community would have saved US $30 million in additional clearance costs.  Instead, there are 180 hazardous areas remaining, most of which are roads which cover over a thousand kilometers.  Since 2012, 50 people have been killed or injured by landmines, including many anti-vehicle mines, which shows the continuing humanitarian impact of non-detectable anti-vehicle mines (Landmine Monitor 2014 and forthcoming).

Michael P. Moore

September 22, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


Every tool in the tool box, Part 1

To clear Angola’s landmines, we should be ready to embrace every tool at our disposal.

Most demining firms rely on metal detectors to find mines and several use dogs.  The HALO Trust, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and Mines Advisory Group all use metal detectors in their work in Angola.  During my visit to Angola, one group I did not get to see in action was APOPO.

 

apopo

An NPA employee shows off his Hero RATS t-shirt in Malanje, Angola.

APOPO is the Belgian demining firm that uses mine detection rats, “Hero Rats,” and is active in Mozambique, Cambodia and now Angola.  In Angola, APOPO is something of a subsidiary to NPA and all of APOPO’s staff, limited to trainers and handlers of the rats, are actually NPA employees.  NPA trains the deminers that clear the mines found by the rats and provides all of the logistical and administrative support needed to deploy the rats, which are paid for by APOPO.  According to NPA’s Country Director in Angola, the rats actually sped up clearance rates in the province where they were used.  Until the end of May, APOPO’s work was supported by the European Union and APOPO’s own resources.  Now, APOPO’s work is coordinated with the deminers supported by the Japanese Embassy.  The US State Department has been reluctant to fund APOPO for a number of reasons: 1) APOPO is well-resourced by the Belgian government and individual donors, 2) rats have not been accredited under international mine action standards as an official tool for mine detection, and 3) no independent evaluation of the rats’ capability and accuracy in mine detection has been published.  There are grumblings within the community about the attention the rats are able to generate in the media, but if they work, I am happy to see another tool in the toolkit.  Certainly I prefer the rats to the “Mine Kafon” which seems to get an equal amount of attention but has yet to clear a single mine whereas APOPO finished clearance in Mozambique’s Gaza province ahead of schedule.

Michael P. Moore

September 20, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org