All the Tools in the Toolkit: Demining Machines

My elder son is three years old and is enamored with construction vehicles.  He has a big yellow Tonka truck (probably the same basic design I had when I was his age) that he plays with in the back yard and the playground.  He’ll fill the back with rocks, dirt, water, toy bulldozers, water, anything that will fit.  And then they will get dumped out.  He can do this for as long as he can do anything and it’s a joy to watch.  I was thinking about him while I got to see some demining machines at work (or not, more on that momentarily) in Angola.

Landmines can be cleared manually, through the painstaking process of locating mines and digging them out by hand, or they can be cleared through the use of mechanical means.  Using what looks like amped up farm equipment, most demining machines fall into one of two types: flails or tillers.  Flails use weighted chains to beat the ground, setting off mines upon contact.  Tillers use fixed spikes to dig the ground.  Both flails and tillers rotate around a horizontal axis and are mounted on the front of the machines.

01 - Demining Machnies

02 - Demining Machnies

Mechanical demining is pretty much limited to areas with anti-personnel landmines and small explosives.  Anti-vehicle mines and large pieces of unexploded ordnance would damage even these heavily armored machines.  Soil and terrain are also important to consider when using mechanical means. Tillers aren’t much use in rocky areas and if an area is subject to flooding, the machines can get caught in the mud (they are not light and nimble).

Most smaller machines are remote controlled drones, enabling the “driver” to operate the machines from a safe distance.  Some of the bigger machines, like the one below, will have a cab for the driver, but the size of the machine puts the driver out of harm’s way.

03 - Demining Machnies

The benefit of using mechanical means, beyond the safety of the operator, is the speed at which the machines can clear land. According to Digger DTR and using data from clearance work in Senegal, mechanical demining can clear land six times faster than manual teams.

04 - Demining Machnies

In Angola, mechanical demining is used by all the NGO operators – MAG, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and the HALO Trust – as well as the National Institute for Demining (IND). NPA gave us a demonstration of their MineWolf which kicked up a tremendous amount of dust.  Per NPA custom, they had named their machine, Vanessa, after a former program manager.

05 - Demining Machnies

06 - Demining Machnies

MAG inherited their MineWolf machine from DanChurchAid which had used the machine for clearance in the far eastern regions of the country, but due to funding limits, had been forced to close down operations.  This is the machine, currently out of commission and waiting for repairs that will cost many thousands of dollars (but still much less than the cost of a new machine).  You can see that the tiller attachment on this machine differs from that of NPA’s.  The design of the machines are such that the clearance attachments can be swapped out to match the clearance need, or be replaced if they are damaged.

07 - Demining Machnies

Rarer than flails and tillers are sifters which dig into the ground, scoop up a shovel-full and then shake loose the dirt.  MAG uses a sifter attachment on a standard construction excavator (see below) on some of its sites in Angola.

08 - Demining Machnies

In 2016, the HALO Trust took delivery of a new remote-controlled Digger DTR tiller that will be used in an around Huambo in central Angola.

09 - Demining Machnies

For a complete list and discussion of the types of mechanical demining machines and their uses, please see the GICHD’s publication here.

Michael P. Moore

March 24, 2017

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

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A Day in the HALO Life

During my recent visit to Zimbabwe I had the incredible opportunity to accompany the HALO Trust to its worksite on the Mozambican border, a four hour drive from Harare.  With a team of 150 people, many of them locally-hired deminers, but also a large number of experienced deminers who had cleared mines in Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Falkland Islands and elsewhere.  There is also an all-female section of deminers.  Each month the team works 22 days straight and then has eight days off; almost all of the team lives in one of two camps (some of the locally-hired crew go home, but for the first several cycles even the locally-hired deminers stayed in camp).  The team starts early and works in 30 minute shifts followed by 10 minute breaks to help maintain concentration.

Mine clearance in this part of the country is simplified by the fact that most of the mines were laid in a very regular and predictable pattern as seen below. In 1998 – 2000, Koch MineSafe cleared the Cordon Sanitaire minefields (at the top of the picture) and the two rows of Ploughshares (a directional fragmentation mine placed upon a stake at roughly head height) closest to the Cordan Sanitaire.  That left the reinforcement minefield and the row of Ploughshares closest to the reinforcement minefield.  In the middle of the reinforcement minefield, marked by the solid line with “x”s on it, was a barbed wire fence.  All that remains of the Ploughshares and the barbed wire fence are the stakes in the ground that held the mines and fence posts.  These stakes help HALO determine where the mines are because the mines really do follow the pattern in the diagram.

00, Minefield

HALO found these four mines (the white stakes show the location of cleared mines) in the exact pattern described by the Rhodesian mine layers; when the team finds one mine, they can generally predict the location of the rest.

01, Pattern

Finding the Ploughshares stakes also helps as each Ploughshare was protected by two “keepers,” anti-personnel mines that prevented tampering with the Ploughshares.  Through fires and animal accidents, all of the Ploughshares have been detonated but many of the stakes remain.

02, Stake

However, the stakes can also serve as good digging tools and many have been collected from the minefields despite repeated warnings about the risk:

03, Stake

Despite the relatively good conditions for landmine clearance, a lot of work is needed because most remain buried and covered by underbrush.  A few mines have been found on the surface, like this one, but they are rare.

04, mine

The work day starts very early with a morning reveille and parade to go over issues and remind everyone to take care.  The day I arrived a deminer had been bitten by a snake so the next day’s reveille was an opportunity to tell the team that he was fine and would be returning to work soon.

05, Reveille

As soon as the light is good for working, the team is in the field to be able to end the work day before the heat of the mid and late afternoon.  To get from the camp to the work sites, the teams travel in vehicles that had been acquired from a German safari company:

06, Heading out

In the field, the deminers mark out their work areas using red stakes and string.  Some work horizontally (covering several meters of width and less than a meter depth), others work vertically, one square meter at a time.  In this photo, the deminer is sweeping a horizontal work area with a metal detector set to the highest level of sensitivity.  Before he could start the sweep with the mine detector, he first had to clear all of the brush, bushes and trees from the area.

07, Sweeping

When the detector indicates the presence of metal, which could be a mine, shrapnel from a Ploughshare, an old piece of barbed wire or any number of other items, the deminer marks the spot with wooden tab:

08, Marking

For my benefit, the deminer pointed out the red wooden tab:

09, Marking

The wooden tab is then “boxed” in and the deminer preps the ground for digging.

10, Prepping

The deminer then digs out the ground in front of the “box” to a depth of 20 centimeters.  This is the depth required in HALO’s standard operating procedures and corresponds to the maximum depths at which HALO has found buried mines in this area.

11, Digging

In areas with lots of metal contamination (like where a Ploughshare exploded and the shrapnel has spread out), the deminer may need to fully excavate the work area because the metal detectors cannot identify a single signal.

12, More digging

When a mine is found, the deminer will mark the location using a red area and call over one of the section leaders.  Because of the instability of the South African landmines that the Rhodesians used, section leaders are responsible for “lifting” the mines from the ground.

13, Pointing

The section leader patiently digs the mine out of the ground.  Here’s one showing off his work:

14, Cleared

All cleared mines are then collected in a safe location for destruction later in the day.

15, Collected

Once a mine is cleared, HALO places a white stake where the mine was found.  Each white stake lists the date the mine was cleared, the type of mine found and the depth of the mine below the surface.

16, Staked

When the deminer declares an area cleared of metal, the section leader will re-scan the area with a metal detector.  If the deminer has missed any metal, the deminer receives a warning.  Too many warnings and the deminer is dismissed.

17, Checking

At the end of each work day, all of the mines cleared that day are destroyed.  The HALO Trust does not have approval from the Zimbabwean government to import or use explosives for demolition so it burns each mine.  Each mine is placed in a metal box filled with flammable material, in this case sawdust soaked in flammable liquid.

18, Burning

Section leaders ignite all of the mines at once.  Eight were burned on the afternoon I was there.

19, BurningIn the course of the burning, the explosive material burns away but the detonator still explodes in a somewhat unsatisfying flash and puff of smoke:

20, Burning21, PuffAfter the mines are destroyed, the teams pile back into the safari vehicles and head back to camp.

22, Heading back

At camp, the deminers get some lunch and relax.  A television was brought in for the 2014 World Cup and while I was there the teams watched highlights from Copa America football tournament in Chile.

23, Back in Camp

All in a day’s (very good) work.

Many thanks to Tom Dibb and the entire team at HALO-Zimbabwe for letting me tag along. To learn more about HALO’s work in Zimbabwe, please visit their website.

Michael P. Moore

July 20, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


Zimbabwe Days 3 & 4, Minefields of Mukumbura

I spent the last two days as a guest of the fantastic HALO Trust, learning first-hand about their work on the northeastern border of Zimbabwe.  The minefields here date back to the late 1970s during Zimbabwe’s liberation war and were laid by the Rhodesian government.  In 1998 – 2000, Koch MineSafe, a commercial demining firm (which employed many of the same deminers currently working for HALO), cleared some of the landmines, but also left many still in the ground.

The many layers of landmines along the Zimbabwe border

The many layers of landmines along the Zimbabwe border

The Rhodesian government laid landmines in three rows: a Cordon Sanitaire minefield with barbed wire and buried anti-personnel mines closest to the border; three layers of Ploughshare (or Ploughshear), a directional fragmentation mine, similar to the Claymore, linked to overlapping tripwires, with each Ploughshare protected by two “keeper” landmines to prevent tampering; a reinforcement minefield consisting of two rows of anti-personnel landmines.

Koch cleared the Cordon Sanitaire landmines closest to the border and many of the Ploughshare landmines, but in most places left the reinforcement minefields (Koch’s contract covered clearance of the Cordon Sanitaire and two rows of Ploughshares).  HALO is clearing all of the mines it finds, and during my visit I saw clearance of the reinforcement minefields and the third row of the Ploughshare minefield.  The density of the minefields is such that HALO is clearing more than a thousand landmines a month (all anti-personnel mines), one of the highest clearance rates anywhere in the world.

On the left, Ploughshare mines; Top Center and Top Right, South African-made R2M2 mines; Bottom Center and Bottom Right, Portuguese-made MAPS mines.

On the left, Ploughshare mines; Top Center and Top Right, South African-made R2M2 mines; Bottom Center and Bottom Right, Portuguese-made MAPS mines.

Most of the Ploughshare mines detonated long ago, the only remnants are the stakes that held the mines and the keepers (Portuguese MAPS and either Italian-made VS50s [not pictured] or South African-made R2M2s).  In the reinforcement minefield, all of the mines are the South African M2R2s, one of which I could see sitting on top of the ground, others are buried up to 20 centimeters.

Because the mines have been here for so long, the impacts on the local communities are staggering. In one village in HALO’s working area, more than 20 persons suffered landmine injuries resulting in amputations.  In another community, 14 cattle were lost in a single year.  At the local primary school, 66 children from Mozambique crossed the minefields twice every day to attend classes.

Map of HALO Trust's working area (active sites in blue, cleared areas in green). The residents live in communities to the bottom left of the picture, separated from the minefields by the road. The Mukubura River, forming the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe is marked in yellow.

Map of HALO Trust’s working area (active sites in blue, cleared areas in green). The residents live in communities to the bottom left of the picture, separated from the minefields by the road. The Mukubura River, forming the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe is marked in yellow.

The communities are aware of the minefields.  Elders lived in the area when the mines were planted and many remembered the clearance work done by Koch.  All have stories of friends, family members or livestock killed or injured by mines.  But, the best farmland in the region cruelly lies between the minefield and the Mukumbura River and the water holes are in the same place.  Many paths of various widths crisscross the minefields and while villagers felt safe on the paths, HALO found landmines just steps away.

Red circle marks were two landmines were found next to a heavily used track from the village to the watering holes by the river.

Red circle marks were two landmines were found next to a heavily used track from the village to the watering holes by the river.

HALO has worked with the communities to identify the minefields, and has also provided assistance to many survivors.  In addition to freeing up land for development and agriculture (many local headmen are eyeing the cleared fields for housing for their communities) and making the paths to and from the water holes safer, HALO has arranged for several amputees to receive new prosthetic limbs.  For some survivors, these are the first limbs they have received in more than thirty years (or ever).

Two survivors flank July, one of HALO's senior staff.  Both survivors have received artificial limbs thanks to HALO's intervention.

Two survivors flank July, one of HALO’s senior staff. Both survivors have received artificial limbs thanks to HALO’s intervention.

There is still much to be done.  In addition to the HALO Trust, Norwegian People’s Aid is clearing minefields along the eastern border, around the city of Mutare, and the engineering division of Zimbabwe’s army is busy with the southeastern borders.  Since 2013, the pace of clearance has increased immensely, but years more effort will be needed to clear the rest of the mines at the current levels of support.


The Choices We Make: How Chad Uses its Demining Capacity

Article 5.1 of the Mine Ban Treaty commits States Parties to clearing all known anti-personnel landmines from their territory. In full, the clause reads:

Each State Party undertakes to destroy or ensure the destruction of all anti-personnel mines in mined areas under its jurisdiction or control, as soon as possible but not later than ten years after the entry into force of this Convention for that State Party.

Too many countries have not met this obligation.  Some have missed the deadline due to the extent of contamination, e.g., Cambodia and Afghanistan, but others have simply failed to put forth the effort to clear their minefields despite having the capacity to do.  Blaming mismanagement and shortfalls, Chad has requested an additional ten years to clear its minefields; a request that has been granted despite the country’s ability to complete the task faster.

Chad’s minefields, almost exclusively found in the northern area of the country, come from the 1973 invasion of Chad by Libya and decades of internal conflicts and cover some 128 square kilometers, about double the size of Manhattan Island in New York City.  Unexploded ordnance (UXO) is found in the north, east and west of the country, but only covers a little more than 3 kilometers.  Despite this limited area of contamination, roughly 0.01% of the country, Chadian officials have talked about minefields covering “vast swathes of territory” (AP Mine Ban Convention; The Monitor).

The limited landmine contamination in Chad has had an outsized impact on the population.  More than a hundred people are killed or injured by mines every year due to the highly mobile nature of Chad’s population, many of whom are pastoralists.  Chad also has a very large refugee population with nearly half a million refugees, equivalent to almost a tenth of the country’s population, fleeing conflicts in Sudan and the Central African Republic, and refugees are one of the most at-risk groups for landmine injuries (IRIN News; ACAPS).  In the past, Chad has explained its inability to address the landmine issue as the result of mismanagement and absence of central leadership on the issue.  While there may be some truth to that and certainly the changes in ownership of the mine action issue in Chad would affect the government’s ability to prioritize landmine clearance, it doesn’t not explain the whole story.

The United States government, as part of its counter-terrorism and regional security initiative has identified Chad as a key partner.  Since 1993, the US government has provided US $11 million to Chad to address its landmine problem and beginning in 2010, AFRICOM has helped “to build capabilities within Chad by instructing local forces on demining, stockpile management, and medical first response.”  As a result of that training, “the Chad National Demining Authority assists their American instructors in teaching demining operations to personnel from other countries in the Sahel and throughout the African continent” (State Department). Therefore, the government of Chad has used its newly increased capacity not to address its own landmine contamination, but to train other countries.  Instead of first getting its own house in order, Chad has decided to deploy these valuable assets elsewhere.

The government of Chad is obligated by its ratification of the Mine Ban Treaty to clear all anti-personnel landmines “as soon as possible.”  The training from the US government should be used to meet that obligation before helping other countries to meet their obligations.  With a determined effort, Chad could complete its landmine clearance long before its current deadline of January 1, 2020.  The US, as a prime supporter of Chad’s landmine clearance work and trainer of its deminers, should encourage Chad to focus on its mines before asking Chad to help neighboring countries.

Michael P. Moore

October 3, 2014

 


Four Takeaways from the Maputo Conference on a Mine-Free World

States, advocates and survivors came together in the Mozambican capitol of Maputo to review the progress of the Mine Ban Treaty after 15 years of implementation and agree upon an agenda for the next five years. From June 23rd to the 27th nearly one thousand delegates participated in formal sessions and dozens of side events celebrating the Treaty’s accomplishments and preparing for the next phase of work. (Round-ups of each day’s activities, as reported in social media, can be found here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4.) While there were entirely too many moments of note to try and summarize, from the United States’s announcement that it will no longer procure anti-personnel landmines (3rd Review Conference) to the continued confirmations from the host country of its desire to be mine-free by the end of the year (3rd Review Conference), there were four items that particularly stood out for me despite only observing the Conference from a distance of more than 8,000 miles away. These items include challenges from deminers, a defense of the use of landmines, and the continuing challenge of survivor assistance.

“Doing the Math on Clearance Rates”
Co-founder of the HALO Trust and current president of HALO-USA, Guy Willoughby, addressed the Conference’s attendees on Day 3 (The HALO Trust). With over 25 years of experience in humanitarian demining and over 7,000 employees employed in 17 countries clearing landmines, Mr. Willoughby challenged the attendees to “aspire to making landmines history” and reminded states that they had agreed to a ten-year deadline to clear all landmines. The HALO Trust’s forecasting shows that with modest increases in donor funding, all landmines could be cleared from Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Cambodia, Colombia, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Somalia and Zimbabwe by 2025. But, if mine action contributions decline, “Angola will take 28 more years to clear instead of ten… and Zimbabwe 48 more years.” Those delays would mean “thousands more human and livestock casualties, thousands of hectares left uncultivated.” The HALO Trust is widely respected within the mine action community and Mr. Willoughby’s intervention generated the momentum needed for the participants to agree upon 2025 as the goal for a landmine-free world.

“Persistent Failure”
Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) presented a report during a side event on June 26th which assessed the scope of the landmine clearance challenge that remained. NPA listed 40 countries, 24 of whom are party to the Mine Ban Treaty and 16 which are not, that are fully capable of clearing all known minefields by 2019. However, NPA’s report stated that “the primary obstacle to effective and efficient clearance of mined areas is not funding per se, as is sometimes alleged, much less the weather or difficult terrain, but lack of political will to get the job done. In particular, when we look at the Article 5 waifs and strays, such as Chad, Senegal, Turkey, and the United Kingdom (discussed below), it is has been lack of political will that is the major cause of persistent failure to implement Article 5, not the availability or otherwise of adequate funding.” The report goes further to critique the United Nations’ role in mine action saying the UN’s focus on capacity building of mine action centers was “a strategic mistake” with “petty squabbles about ‘who gets the overhead’ between UNDP, UNMAS, and UNOPS.” A better role for the UN would have been “to focus on generating political will at the higher levels of government, creating an enabling environment for mine action.” A further critique of the UN agencies was the fact that they “never sought to gather basic mine action data about contamination, progress in clearance, and victims.” The data problems are evident as mine action operators and mine action centers “are unable to disaggregate land release into cancelation of mined areas by non-technical survey, release by technical survey, or release by clearance, or even to distinguish battle area clearance from mine clearance.”

NPA’s report then lists the criteria for an effective mine action program that is fully able to address any existing landmine contamination. In NPA’s assessment: “The best performing mine action program in 2013 among 30 affected States Parties was Algeria, followed by Mauritania and Cambodia. The most improved mine action program in 2013 was Zimbabwe. The least performing mine action program in 2013 was Chad, slightly below Turkey and then, equally, Ethiopia, Senegal, and South Sudan.”

I love, love, love both of these interventions. The HALO Trust and NPA have decades of on-the-ground experience in landmine clearance and have born witness to what countries are capable of when those countries have the political will to act. Guy Willoughby challenged the donor community to step up and commit the necessary resources to deliver a landmine-free world and NPA called out those countries who have been negligent in their obligations. NPA’s report reflects what I have heard many people say in private conversations and I’m so happy to see them come out and say it out loud. Long overdue. On the flip side, here are the two things that I did not like so much:

“Harmonizing Military Necessity with Humanitarian Concerns”
I do not envy the Indian and Chinese delegations at the Maputo Conference which participated as observers since neither country has signed or acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty. The Indian delegation stated that the Mine Ban Treaty was unnecessary as “the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons provides the appropriate legal framework for harmonizing military necessity with humanitarian concerns” and defended the need for anti-personnel landmines as part of “the legitimate defence requirements of States, particularly those with long borders.” Despite its support for “a world free of the threat of landmines,” India’s “national security concerns oblige us currently to stay out of the Convention” (3rd Review Conference).

The Chinese delegation admitted to keeping “a very limited number” of anti-personnel landmines in its stockpile “for defence purpose.” These mines are compliant with the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons but absolutely banned by the Mine Ban Treaty. Also, in a challenge to the Mine Ban Treaty’s Article 5 which obligates States to clear known minefields within their territory, China advocated for “the principle of ‘user to clear’” to “accelerate the elimination of the landmine scourge.” The “user to clear” principle would relieve States of any obligation to protect their own citizens from landmines (3rd Review Conference).

By defending the use of landmines and reiterating their “legitimate” use, India and China continue to provide cover to states like Egypt, Morocco and Israel which remain outside the Mine Ban Treaty. As the Special Envoy for the Universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty said, the decision to ban landmines is not a military one, it is a humanitarian one. There is no balance between military utility and humanitarian costs when it comes to anti-personnel landmines; the humanitarian costs so far outweigh any possible military utility as to render the mines mere “weapons of cowards” as Pope Francis described them.

The “user to clear” principle is just wrong and let me offer two examples to show why.  1) In Zimbabwe there are over 1 million landmines that were laid by the Rhodesian government in the 1970s.  Rhodesia has not existed since 1980 so who would be responsible for clearing its landmines if “user to clear” were the rule?  2) In current conflicts, most landmine users are rebel groups, not governments.  Who would be responsible for clearing rebel-laid mines under “user to clear”?

“The Solemn Promise to Mine Victims”
In the Maputo Action Plan, the States Parties recommitted themselves to the “full, equal and effective participation of mine victims in society.” The Plan then goes on to say that each State Party with landmine victims “in areas under its jurisdiction or control… will do its utmost to assess the needs of mine victims… [and] will do its utmost to communicate to the States Parties… by April 30, 2015, time-bound and measurable objectives it seeks to achieve… that will contribute to the full, equal and effective participation of mine victims in society” (emphasis added) (Maputo Action Plan). Why, oh why, have States Parties not already conducted these needs assessments and why couldn’t States Parties come to Maputo prepared to discuss their objectives and activities to respond to these needs? Why will States Parties only do their “utmost” to meet these commitments? Why not have the commitments be binding? Because the commitments are not binding – a State can always say that it tried, but could not meet the deadline and still have fulfilled the obligation of the Action Plan – I am afraid that we are kicking the can down the road yet again. If we have made a “solemn promise to mine victims,” why can’t we keep it? How much longer will survivors trust the States when they make pledges that are not adhered to? The Maputo Action Plan says all of the right things, but in the end, there is nothing binding there on survivor assistance and we have once again let down this group that has led the charge for a mine-free world. I wish I was surprised and not just disappointed.

On the whole, the Conference was extremely positive, the Maputo Action Plan can be an aspirational document and hopefully the goal of a mine-free world in 2025 will be achieved. Let’s get to work.

Michael P. Moore
July 9, 2014
moe (at) landminesinafrica.org


Profile of Egypt’s Executive Secretariat for the Demining and Development of the North West Coast

In 2006, the government of Egypt with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched a multi-billion dollar initiative to develop the desert regions of the west of Egypt, along the Mediterranean.  The government’s plan would create 400,000 jobs and encourage more than a million Egyptians to move from the Nile River valley to the region.  At present, the area is undeveloped except for the resort town of Marsa Matruh and populated mostly by Bedouin tribes.  And landmines.  Millions and millions of landmines.

eg-map Contamination-Map1-300x237

The northwest coast of Egypt was the site of the tank battles of El Alamein from World War II between the German Afrika Corps under Rommel and the British Eighth Army under Montgomery.  The two armies laid so many landmines, estimated at 20 million, that the region came to be known as “the Devil’s Garden.”  The map on the right shows the main areas of landmine contamination, covering more than 200 miles of coastline: just west of Alexandria where El Alamein is; around Marsa Matruh; and near the border with Libya (additional minefields lie on the Libyan side of the border).  To address the landmine issue and make the region suitable for development, the government of Egypt created the Executive Secretariat for the Demining and Development of the North West Coast (Executive Secretariat).  Organized under the Ministry of International Cooperation in 2007, the Executive Secretariat is the coordination unit for the development project and is supported with national and international contributions.  The majority of funding derives from the Egyptian government, but in 2013 more than US $1.3 million came from UNDP and the governments of Australia, Germany, New Zealand and Great Britain.  In previous years, the European Commission, Japan, Norway and the United States also contributed to the Executive Secretariat.

The Executive Secretariat’s mission includes:

  • Coordination and monitoring the implementation of the development plan and related mine action activities;
  • The development of a communication strategy and resource mobilization strategy and coordination with donors, civil society and the private sector;
  • The conduct of demining activities based on clearly identified humanitarian and development needs; and
  • The conduct of mine risk education and victim assistance activities.

 

Demining

The Executive Secretariat serves as the mine action authority for Egypt and is responsible for coordinating landmine clearance activities.  Using a combination of technical and non-technical survey, the Executive Secretariat has been trying to determine the exact extent of the minefields in the country.  The estimates of 17 to 22 million landmines, representing more than 20% of the total landmines contaminating the globe, are based upon an extrapolation of clearance work conducted by the Egyptian army in the 1980s and 1990s; the true number may be higher or lower.  According to Fathy El-Shazly, the Executive Secretariat’s director, “the [landmine] contamination has been found to extend beyond the area suspected by the army. In some areas, such as Ras Hekma and Siwa, there are no mines indicated [on the Egyptian army’s maps], yet many accidents” have occurred in those places.  At the same time, landmine clearance work has been conducted by private companies seeking to exploit the oil and natural gas reserves along the coastline and their clearance work has not been integrated into national databases.

Clearance work has been ongoing since the creation of the Executive Secretariat with the pace of clearance increasing over time.  In 2010, 3 million landmines and over 9,000 acres of land were cleared and released for use; over a ten month period spanning 2012 and 2013, over 26,000 acres of land were cleared and released for use.  Another 200,000 acres of land remain to be cleared based upon requests from the ministries of agriculture, housing and environmental affairs.  The Executive Secretariat uses mechanical techniques for clearing and landmine clearance is complicated by the presence of a variety of anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines and the nature of the soil.  The desert sands are subject to flooding and erosion which have moved the mines from regular formations expected in military-laid minefields and may have buried some mines more than 6 feet below the surface.

 

Mine Risk Education

The Executive Secretariat has published a five year strategy (2010 – 2015) for its mine risk education (MRE) programming.  Most landmine victims in Egypt are adult males due to their high exposure in contaminated areas through shepherding and farming; the strategy also recognized that children in the contaminated areas help out with shepherding after school, exposing them to risk as well.  The main implementation of the strategy has been through targeted support to four local organizations, including the survivors association, Association of Landmines Survivors for Economic Development – Marsa Matruh, and through school-based campaigns.  To dates, two MRE campaigns have been conducted; the first campaign educated 15,000 primary and secondary school students, the second campaign focused on secondary school and college students.  The second campaign built support within the government of the Matruh governorate which has since encouraged churches and mosques to inform their communities about the risks of landmines.  This outcome of the second campaign ties into the MRE strategy’s goal of reaching adult males directly, rather than indirectly through children.

 

Victim Assistance

EgyptDiffidenti_large

The total number of landmine victims in Egypt is estimated at over 8,000 and while the Executive Secretariat has documented 759 in the North West region, UNDP believes that only half of all landmine incidents are reported.  Of the known, documented survivors, 94% are males. In 2012, 41 people were killed by mines and 5 others injured; of the 46 casualties, all but one were civilians.

The Executive Secretariat maintains a database of landmine casualties and adds known survivors to that database when they are identified.  In 2013, the Executive Secretariat provided prosthetic devices to 241 survivors as well as micro-credit loans to 39 women, but these services are limited to the Matruh governorate.  In addition to the direct provision of services, the Executive Secretariat supports non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including Protection, the Arab Doctors Union, the Association of Landmines Survivors for Economic Development, which target landmine survivors.  These NGOs provide income generation projects, peer assistance and advocacy opportunities for survivors.  The support from the Executive Secretariat takes the form of capacity building focusing on financial and project management to help the NGOs more efficiently and effectively provide services to their beneficiaries.  Within the micro-credit programs, all loans have been repaid on time and in full.

Outside of the Matruh governorate, survivor assistance services are run by the national government and consist of a small financial compensation and little or no rehabilitation and reintegration services.  Because many minefields are in restricted areas, survivors are loath to report their injuries as that would be tantamount to admitting they were trespassing or participating in illegal activities.  Many survivors also suffer from psychological issues due to loss of income potential, discrimination against persons with disabilities, and the pervasive feeling they are victims of a “war they were never party to.”

 

Looking Ahead

The Executive Secretariat’s plans for 2014 include the development of an epidemiologic information system that will report new landmine casualties as they occur.  Such a system will allow the Executive Secretariat and its partner NGOs to target survivor assistance services and determine the possible extent of landmine contamination.  The Executive Secretariat will also work to bring new partners into the mine action fold including private sector actors and the international community, especially the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD).  Of course, the Executive Secretariat will also continue to provide mine risk education services as detailed in its strategy document and victim assistance services to survivors.

 

Michael P. Moore

June 20, 2014


The Month in Mines, April 2014

The annual observance of the International Day of Mine Action and Awareness on April 4th generates many news stories about the current conditions of mine-affected countries and this year was no different.  The April 4th stories tend to be positive in tone and so there is a striking discord between the stories about demining progress and reports of new mine accidents that occurred in April.  Especially troubling news came out of Mozambique where political tensions have spilled into violence that threatens the impressive gains there; in Tunisia where landmines are being used by insurgents on Mount Chaambi; in South Sudan where false accusations of landmine use were levelled against the United Nations mission; and Somalia where landmine casualties continue to mount.  Additional positive news was seen as Burundi declared itself landmine free (again).

 

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s landmine clearance began soon after the new country emerged from the civil war with the former Rhodesia regime in 1980.  The clearance continues today after suffering numerous fits and starts.  The majority of the more than one million landmines lie along the borders with Zambia and Mozambique and were place by Rhodesian soldiers to prevent liberation fighters from entering the country.  The minefields were mapped by Rhodesian soldiers, but those maps were lost in the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, a loss that has hampered clearance and caused loss of life and limb.  Best estimates suggest almost 4,000 people have been killed or injured by landmines and over 120,000 cattle have been killed over the last three decades.  Even areas that were thought to be safe from landmines can become contaminated by the frequent flooding in the mine-affected regions which disturb and displace the mines.

Currently, three international NGOs, the HALO Trust, Norwegian People’s Aid and the International Committee of the Red Cross are assisting with the landmine clearance.  Mukumbura, the most mine-affected province in Zimbabwe was described by HALO as “resembling ‘a country in the immediate post-conflict phase,’ with mines found close ‘to houses, schools and clinics’” suggesting how little clearance has actually taken place. “The younger generations in Mukumbura area are victims of a war that ended years before they were born.”  The government of Zimbabwe frequently pleads poverty due to international sanctions (brought about because of Zimbabwe’s illegal farm seizures) and only allocates US $500,000 of the requested $2 million for mine clearance, reflecting the government’s “misplaced priorities.”

Zimbabwe has requested yet another extension, its fourth, of its Mine Ban Treaty-mandated deadline to clear the remaining minefields.  The current deadline in January 1, 2015, which will not be met, and the proposed deadline is January 1, 2018 and yet another extension request will be made once the full extent of landmine contamination is known (Southwest Radio Africa; Sunday Mail).

 

Mozambique

In June Mozambique will host the Third Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty and the country is hoping to show off its best side at that time.  There is a strong push within the country to clear the remaining minefields which are mostly along the border with Zimbabwe.  With some 20,000 landmine survivors across the country, the scale of the landmine problem in Mozambique was once thought nearly insurmountable, but Mozambique and its donors feel that completion of all demining tasks is possible this year.  The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) took advantage of the April 4th observances to highlight to role of women deminers in clearing Mozambique’s landmines (All Africa) the director of Mozambique’s national demining institute, Alberto Augusto, highlighted the progress to date: 200,000 mines cleared and a casualty rate of only four persons in 2012.  However, Mr. Augusto also described one of the greatest challenges facing Mozambique’s landmine clearance program may not be the landmines or the terrain, but politics.  Because the opposition party RENAMO has returned to the “bush” and its roots as a rebel organization, violence in Sofala province, one of the few remaining mine-affected provinces, has halted landmine clearance there, especially after two deminers were injured.  Mr. Augusto said that if a ceasefire could not be agreed with RENAMO by May 1, then Mozambique would likely miss its clearance deadline of December 31, 2014 (Voice of America).

 

Western Sahara

The Saharawi Mine Actions Coordination Office (SMACO) hosted a mine risk education workshop in conjunction with the Saharawi Campaign to Ban Landmines, the Saharawi Association of Landmine Victims and Action on Armed Violence.  The workshop informed government and civil society leaders of the landmine risks in Western Sahara arising from the separation wall, the berm, erected by the Moroccan government (All Africa).  The need for such a workshop was unfortunately confirmed later in the month when a 29 year-old Saharawi was killed by a landmine outside of the city of Smara while he was herding camels (All Africa).

 

South Sudan

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was accused by the government of South Sudan of arming the rebels loyal to ousted Vice President Riek Machar with landmines and anti-aircraft weaponry. The accusation arose when South Sudan’s army seized a UNMISS convoy that was carrying weapons for the UN peacekeeping force in the country.  The convoy did have guns and riot suppression gear (tear gas and gas masks) but the accusation of landmines was completely false and reckless as was the accusation that UNMISS was arming the rebels (All Africa).  In fact, the United Nations has one of its largest landmine clearance programs in South Sudan and the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has been doing heroic work since the start of the civil war in South Sudan in December 2013.  UNMAS continues to clear mines from routes and has been investigating use of cluster munitions and new use of landmines by some of the rebels.  UNMAS has also provided safe haven for some displaced persons in its compounds (Relief Web).  The government of South Sudan does recognize the threat of landmines and has also been educating school children about the threat and has called on all parties to the current conflict to refrain from landmine use (eNCA).

 

Sudan

While three-quarters of the minefields of Sudan have been cleared so far, much work remains to be done both in terms of clearance and assistance to survivors because “the number of victims is underestimated in Sudan.”  Some 35 million square meters of land, mostly in Sudan’s eastern states, have yet to be cleared and ongoing conflict in Blue Nile and South Kordofan States prevents access to clear minefields there.  Sudan’s current landmine clearance plan places work in those two states on hold until the security situation permits access and instead focuses all efforts on other areas.  That plan, approved by the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty requires additional support from the international community as Sudan estimates the cost of mine action at $10 million per year for each of the next three years (All Africa).

In an interesting comment by Sudan’s vice president, Hassabo Mohamed Adbul Rahman, Sudan reiterated its commitment to the Mine Ban Treaty but called on “signatories to stop landmines manufacturing due to their hazardous effects.”  I’m hoping something was lost in translation or the Vice President was insufficiently briefed before his remarks because banning manufacture of landmines is one of the most basic requirements of the Treaty (Sudan Vision Daily).

 

Tunisia

Tunisia Map

Tunisia has seen a large number of artisanal or home-made landmines being used in the vicinity of Jebel (Mount) Chaambi on the Algerian border.  Islamist rebels have used the mountain as a base and placed landmines to kill or injure Tunisian soldiers who are trying to dislodge them.  At least 16 mines have exploded over the last year including several in April.  On April 10th and 11th, three mines exploded and according to official reports, the first and third mines damaged military vehicles but did not injure the soldiers riding in the vehicle.  The second mine injured a civilian when his tractor struck a mine (All Africa; All Africa).  In addition to the mines on Mount Chaambi, two mines on nearby Mount Alhaanbe injured eight soldiers, two severely on April 11th and the Tunisian army appears to have tried to minimize the coverage of the incident (All Africa).  A week later, a soldier was killed and two more wounded when their vehicle struck a mine on Mount Chaambi (All Africa; Reuters; All Africa).

 

Somalia

In the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland, three people were killed and two other injured by an anti-personnel landmine in Qorilugud.  The mine was attributed to forces loyal to Somalia’s former dictator Siad Barre and dated to the 1980s (Somaliland Sun).

Somalia’s prime minister, Adbiweli Sheikh Ahmed declared the capitol, Mogadishu, free of landmines, saying, “we must have the ability to give our youth a better life towards greater accomplishments. We also have a responsibility to clean up and eliminate destructive items” (All Africa).  Mine clearance is urgently needed in other parts of Somalia.  In Dhobley district in the south of the country, a landmine killed three people and injured others when an AMISOM vehicle struck a mine (Somalia Focus).  In Galgadud, four people were killed and three injured by a mine (Radio Barkulan).

 

Libya

In Ajdabiya, a man was injured by a landmine, losing his leg and damaging his pelvic bone (Libya Herald).  To address the extensive landmine contamination in Libya, civilian volunteers have taken on the dangerous job of minefield clearance.  As one of the volunteers noted, the location of minefields is not known, instead “We discover them when a landmine explodes.”  The volunteers have formed an organization, “No to Landmines and War Debris,” and received some training from mine action operators through observation and assistance.  Now then, I have a very hard time faulting these unbelievably brave men who are doing this work, but they need to be following International Mine Action Standards and accurately documenting their work.  Unfortunately, several of the volunteers have been killed in the line of work, two as recently as March, but they have cleared over 23,000 landmines.  If there are mine action operators who can help these volunteers out, please do so (All Africa).

 

Angola

As part of the April 4th observances, Angola reported that is has cleared over seven billion square meters of landmines since 1996 (All Africa).

 

Burundi

Burundi declared itself free of landmines and will make the formal announcement at the Third Review Conference.  In 2011, Burundi declared itself mine-free but discovered some additional, previously undocumented minefields after that declaration and so, per the Treaty’s requirements, Burundi had to complete its landmine clearance again.  Burundi is the 11th African country to complete its demining obligations (Xperedon).  In addition to clearing mines within its own territory, Burundian soldiers have been trained on landmine clearance in advance of their deployment as part of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia.  With support and expertise from the US African Army Command, Burundian peacekeepers will be prepared to sweep a road suspected of landmines or improvised explosive devices (Defence Web).

 

Mali

A French soldier serving in Operation Serval in northern Mali was slightly injured by a landmine near the town of Tessalit (Mali Web).  Two weeks later, seven Malian soldiers were injured by a mine in the Gao region of northeastern Mali.  The mine was recently laid and blamed upon Islamist fighters who had been ousted by the French forces (AFP).

 

Ethiopia

The United Kingdom used April 4th to highlight their policy paper on landmine clearance, “Clearing a Path to Development,” and described how the UK is helping to clear landmines from Ethiopia.  According to the UK, some 2 million landmines pollute Ethiopia with mines dating back to 1935’s invasion by Italy with the worst contamination along the borders with Eritrea and Somalia (Foreign and Commonwealth Office).

 

Egypt

Also related to the United Kingdom, a lawyer in Egypt has filed a complaint against the UK for refusal “to pay Egypt over 100 billion British pounds in compensation for landmines planted in the Alamein area of the Western Sahara to target German tanks, which ultimately led to the deaths of thousands of Egyptians.”  The landmines in Egypt’s western desert “impede the opportunities of development in the area.”  Any response to the complaint from the British government or the office of British prime minister David Cameron who was named in the complaint was not reported (Cairo Post).

The enormous scale of landmine contamination in Egypt has drawn the attention of NATO which is trying to address issues related to the fact that at least 10% of the mines in Egypt are at least 1.5 meters underground as a result of shifting sands in the desert.  Traditional detection systems, specifically metal detectors and dogs, are not reliable at such depths and many minefields are also full of other metal fragments.  Egyptian and NATO scientists have been experimenting with ground-penetrating radar and dual-sensor technologies to increase the accuracy of mine detection systems.  This will lead to better, safer and faster demining of the mine-affected areas in Egypt (NATO).

 

African Union

As part of the African Union’s observance of April 4th, the AU donated “55 handheld mine detectors, 55 protective aprons and 55 visors to Ethiopia, Mauritania, Sudan and Zimbabwe” is support of the AU’s goal of a landmine-free Africa (Defence Web).

Michael P. Moore

May 23, 2014