Dangerous Enough: Deminers and DeminingPosted: May 20, 2012
Today there was the welcome news that the four deminers who had been seized by Sudan and held on the suspicion that they were “military advisors” to South Sudan were released after negotiations by former South African President Thabo Mbeki (AFP; Norwegian People’s Aid) . Earlier this year, two mine risk educators from the Danish Demining Group were seized in Somalia and only released after a military operation by US special forces (The Guardian). These abductions and releases merely underscore the danger that mine action personnel subject themselves to already, without also being targets for kidnapping.
For many years, Andy Smith maintained his Database of Demining Accidents, a near-as-possible comprehensive database of all accidents involving deminers. The Database compiled injury and casualty data and tried to document the causes (both in terms of the explosive device and the activities of the deminers at the time of the accident) in order to better develop protocols for avoiding future accidents (Journal of Mine Action, Issue 6.2). Smith made recommendations based upon his database, including protective wear that matched the observed accident and injury profile (Journal of Mine Action, Issue 4.2). Smith later provided additional findings which showed that many demining accidents were caused by deminers following improper procedures and that had International Mine Action Standards been adhered to, fewer accidents and injuries would have occurred. However, whether or not proper procedures were followed, the mere fact that Smith has been able to document nearly 1,000 injuries or deaths among deminers since 1998 (an average of 75 per year or nearly 2% of the total landmine victims over the same period) demonstrates the dangerous nature of the job (Journal of Mine Action, Issue 15.2, pdf).
Chris Moon, a former deminer and recipient of the MBE award, had survived abduction by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, but it was a landmine in Mozambique that took his arm and leg while he was working there (Chris Moon).
In Zimbabwe, five deminers from the Zimbabwe National Army demining team have suffered serious injuries (no count on the number who have suffered minor ones) since 2006 (All Africa).
The United States military maintains a memorial for the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians killed in the line of duty, 289 from 1942 through the start of May, 2012 (At War Blog). The Oscar-winning movie, The Hurt Locker, demonstrated the danger of EOD work, despite the fact that the hero (or anti-hero) took reckless and unnecessary risks.
So, welcome home to John Sörbö and his three colleagues and to the rest of the deminers working to clear landmines in their own countries and in others’ countries, “Stay safe out there.”
Michael P. Moore, May 20, 2012