Every tool in the tool box, Part 1Posted: September 20, 2016
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 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