For almost forty years, landmines have marked Zimbabwe’s borders. While some of those mines have been cleared, over a million remain. Communities on the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border have lived with these mines and each days thousands of people accept the risk and pass through the minefields to graze their livestock, tend their crops, collect water and even go to school. The fencing that marked the minefields were taken down long ago, the metal used for other purposes. All that remains are the mines.
With over 2,000 reported human casualties and 120,000 livestock casualties, people living in the border communities are aware of the mines and know their location. Despite the danger, they accept the risk.
Outside of the border regions, many Zimbabweans don’t know about landmines. Several individuals I spoke with believed that all of the mines had been cleared and in the interior of the country that is true. The only landmines left in Zimbabwe are along the border and there is little or no UXO contamination as is found in other countries. The localized nature of the landmine problem makes it easier to address, but also means that attention from the country as a whole has drifted.
Landmine clearance in Zimbabwe is progressing steadily at the moment, but could take another 30 years or more at the current levels of investment. With that timeline, a robust mine risk education program for the border communities, focusing on behavior change and reporting rather than awareness, is needed to minimize casualties until every mine is cleared.
In my opinion, more mine risk education is needed in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Mine Action Center (ZIMAC) is able to provide mine risk education (MRE) thanks to support from the International Committee of the Red Cross. However ZIMAC only provides MRE in mine-affected communities on an “emergency” basis when there is an increase in the number of casualties or when ZIMAC receives a report of a mine or piece of unexploded ordnance (UXO) outside of the border region. ZIMAC does have an outreach program where they send representatives to regional agricultural fairs, but the number of beneficiaries is unclear. The humanitarian demining organizations, the HALO Trust and Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), have the capacity to provide MRE, but to do so would take staff away from landmine clearance and communities needed MRE can be hundreds of kilometers from current work sites.
One innovative response to this need is the proposed collaboration between the HALO Trust, the United States Embassy and the children’s literacy company, Happy Readers. Happy Readers is a Harare-based company which has produced a series of children’s books aimed at improving English literacy in Zimbabwe by providing entertaining and culturally-appropriate materials for primary schools. While Zimbabwe touts a 93% literacy rate, that figure is based upon the suspect belief that primary school enrollment constitutes functional literacy. Happy Readers’s research shows the true English literacy rate in rural Zimbabwean schools is much lower and leads to reduced professional opportunities later in life.
Using the HALO Trust’s expertise and financial support from the United States Embassy, Happy readers will produce a special volume of their children’s books focused on mine risk education. The book will feature characters introduced in other stories and have a special section at the end with information about how to report landmines and additional mine risk messages aimed at adults. In my conversations with Happy Readers and the HALO Trust, I understand that the proposed support from the Embassy may not cover the full costs of the volume, but Happy Readers are committed to the project all the same. I support this initiative and hope the international community can find a way to make up the balance of the costs.
Beyond what Happy Readers is doing, funding should be secured to enable ZIMAC, HALO Trust or NPA to provide mine risk education to border communities. Again, the people living in the communities know about the risks, but they accept those risks. I saw many people using well-worn paths across the minefields, but HALO Trust showed me several places where they had found landmines just a meter or two from the paths so communities need to be informed about the risks in places they think are safe. Also, I saw a boy holding the stake from a Ploughshare mine and while all of the Ploughshare mines have been cleared, the landmine laid around the Ploughshares have not so people should be warned about metal scavenging in the minefields. Lastly, minefield markers need to be verified from time to time. Markers can be displaced by weather, animals or people and while doing so is a crime, there should be a system where the markers are checked and replaced if missing.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
With nearly a decade and a half of experience, JASMAR Human Security Organization (previously the Sudanese Association for Combating Landmines) has a broad mandate to address Sudan’s extensive landmine contamination. Even with the partition into Sudan and South Sudan, Sudan is one of the most mine-affected countries in Africa with contamination concentrated in the eastern states of the country. JASMAR (the Arabic acronym for “Sudanese Association for Combatting Landmines) was founded in November 2001 and currently employs 55 people. With origins in advocacy and landmine survivor assistance, JASMAR has recently been accredited, along with the Friends of Peace and Development Organization, as the only national organizations capable of demining. JASMAR joins international operator the Development Initiative (TDI) and Sudanese government units, the National Demining Units (NDU), in landmine clearance. JASMAR has been assigned clearance tasks in Kassala state for the near term and is expected to assist in the landmine clearance of South Kordofan state once the security situation allows.
JASMAR has a long experience with demining and mine risk education (MRE) having served as a national partner to both Danish Church Aid (DCA) and Mines Advisory Group (MAG). JASMAR was one of the first Sudanese organizations, along with Operation Save Innocent Lives (OSIL), to participate in demining having been present at DCA’s cross-border demining training in 2002. With MAG, the collaboration was two-way with MAG providing expertise in manual and mechanical clearance and JASMAR providing expertise in delivery of mine risk education as well as personnel for the manual demining teams.
According to the United Nations Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (see below), JASMAR provides mine risk education in Red Sea, Kassala, Gedaref, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states where its 10 MRE teams have reached over 200,000 beneficiaries between 2012 and 2013. Plans are in place to add MRE teams in South, West, Central and Eastern Darfur states in the near future. JASMAR’s manual demining team has cleared over 379,000 square meters of land in just 8 months in 2013 in eastern Sudan with support from the United Nations Mine Action Services.
In addition to its mine risk education and landmine clearance activities, JASMAR is a survivor assistance provider. JASMAR’s current executive director, Sami Ibrahim, said “The principal problem for [landmine] victims is the social gap and so it is important to develop socio-economic projects for them.” In the run-up to the second review conference of the Mine Ban Treaty in 2009, JASMAR conducted a nationwide survey of landmine survivors to determine their needs and priorities. This survey work was informed by advocacy work carried out by JASMAR in Blue Nile state and socio-economic reintegration efforts in Kassala state (JASMAR).
Outside of mine action, JASMAR’s projects include water, sanitation and hygiene programs and work with women and vulnerable children. JASMAR has ongoing interventions in HIV/AIDS, Gender-Based Violence and community-based health care. From time to time, JASMAR has been called upon by its international partners to assist in emergency relief programs as in August 2013 when United Nations agencies provided emergency funding to JASMAR to respond to severe flooding in the Omdurman area of Khartoum. In 2012, JASMAR’s work in security sector reform lead to the provision of reintegration support, including economic development activities like agricultural credits and small business start-ups, for thousands of demobilized soldiers in South Kordofan state.
Going forward, JASMAR has recommitted itself to mine action as a component of its human security portfolio, pledging “to continue addressing personal human security programs such as MA [Mine Action], mainstreaming of HIV/AIDs, gender and environment into its Mine Action programs, DDR [Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration], SALW [Small and Light Weapons] control, CCM [Convention on Cluster Munitions] and works towards alleviating poverty and preventing HIV/AIDS spread.” A complicating factor in mine action in Sudan is the fact that “The number of victims is underestimated in Sudan, due to the lack of accuracy in the collection of data. There are incidents that are never reported.” (Deutche Welle). Also, the continuing insecurity in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states prevents landmine and UXO clearance there while also increasing the risk and contamination from explosive remnants of war.
Thanks to Hytham Malik, JASMAR’s Humanitarian Mine Action project Manager, for his contributions to this piece.
For more information about JASMAR, please visit their website at http://www.jasmar.net/
Michael P. Moore
May 7, 2014
The United Kingdom, through the Department for International Development (DfID), released a policy paper, Clearing a path to development, describing its mine action policies. The paper describes why and how DfID will support mine action, focusing on landmine clearance and mine risk education. The paper lays out four reasons for the UK to continue supporting mine action: 1) to reduce casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war; 2) to meet the UK’s commitment as a donor country under the Mine Ban Treaty; 3) mine action supports other UK strategies; and 4) the UK has experience in the field that should not be lost. The prioritization scheme for investments builds upon these reasons to achieve an overall goal “to build peace and security and support development in countries affected by landmines.”
The policy paper makes two caveats. The first relates to survivor assistance, and says that while the UK seeks to “affect change” across all mine action pillars, survivor assistance is “best provided through broader social and economic development programmes in affected countries, rather than through targeting particular groups.” This is in line with other European Union donors’ policies on survivor assistance. The second is the “value for money” proposition which will set metrics for evaluating the effectiveness of mine action programming. The value for money imperative is not a straitjacket for mine action operators, but it does require robust monitoring and evaluation systems, which the policy paper provides for, and a clear understanding of how the UK defines effectiveness. Fortunately, the paper also provides, in a single graphic, the UK’s theory of change for mine action which I reproduce here without comment, except to say this: I appreciate the clarity of the graphic and believe it would be very helpful to operators developing proposals for DfID’s review and approval.
Michael P. Moore
November 25, 2013
South of Lake Albert, along the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, lie the snow-capped Rwenzori mountains. Described by Ptolemy almost 2,000 years ago, the Rwenzori mountains are a World Heritage Site, home to endangered primates and boast the third-tallest mountain on the African continent (Wikipedia). The beauty of the range has been marred in recent years by rebel groups who have launched attacks from hideouts in the mountains.
Of the 27 rebellions against the government of Uganda since 1986, one of the least understood, but most destructive occurred in the western region of the country, along the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. In November 1996, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) invaded Uganda through Kasese district from its bases in the DRC, displacing and abducting people. The ADF laid landmines and the fighting between the ADF and the Ugandan army littered the Rwenzori Mountains with unexploded ordnance (UXO). Those explosive remnants of war and the continuing instability in the east of the DRC means that for the people of Western Uganda, “war looms every morning.”
The Allied Democratic Forces have been described as a “rebellion without a cause,” but I think that’s incorrect. The ADF had many causes and sowed together Islamic fundamentalists, a defunct rebel groups (the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda), and former soldiers from the Zairean army – forced out when Uganda and Rwanda invaded the DRC to overthrow the Mobutu regime. Funded and armed by the government of Sudan, the ADF waged a long guerrilla war in Western Uganda exacting a heavy burden on the population. A more complete report of the conflict is available from IRIN News.
Extent of the Landmine Problem
According to the Landmine Monitor, 420 landmine survivors have been identified in Western Uganda as of August 2010. However, data for Western Uganda is incomplete: “Incidents resulting in death have only been identified in the north, most likely because data collection in the west has been mainly carried out by local survivors’ organizations whose primary interest is identifying survivors. As such, it is certain that people have been killed by mines/ERW in western Uganda who have not been recorded” (The Landmine Monitor).
Anti-Mines Network-Rwenzori (AMNET-R) was established in 1999, by five teachers at Rwenzori High School after a Landmine hit and killed three children at the gate of Kibirigha Anglican Church. Today, AMNET-R is network of school clubs and community groups, including survivors groups, that uses community participatory approaches in mine risk education (MRE) to promote peace, a culture of non violence and protection of human rights. AMNET-R emphasizes respect and observance of human rights and campaigns against all infringements on human dignity because the respect and protection of human rights will lead to a peaceful, Landmine free Rwenzori region, stretching across the Uganda-DRC border.
AMNET-R’s MRE program links surveys, demining and the rehabilitation of landmine and UXO survivors.
AMNET-R also locates and marks hazardous areas for demining by the Uganda Mine Action Center’s demining teams.
Partnership with Handicap International
AMNET-R has partnered with Handicap International (HI) to build the capacity and technical skills of AMNET-R’s staff, especially in delivery of MRE. HI developed a specific handbook on risk education in 2010 for AMNET-R and provides ongoing financial and technical support to AMNET-R. HI’s goals in Western Uganda include:
- Victims of UXO, people with disabilities and support groups are identified, informed and refered to available institutions in the districts of Kasese and Bundibugyo.
- A directory of stakeholders engaged in the assistance of victims and people with disabilities in the affected areas is created and distributed.
- The network of support groups and associations enables peer-to-peer psychological support.
In addition to the MRE handbook for AMNET-R, HI has produced radio programs to reach the largest audience possible with MRE messages; MRE posters, comics and t-shirts for children and teenager, whether or not they attend school; and a script for a 15-minute MRE film.
Plans for the Immediate Future
AMNET-R’s plans for 2012 include continuation of the current General Mine Action Assessment (GMAA) in western Uganda and continuing to offer mine risk education sessions in schools and local communities to reduce the risk of injury among people who live in mine-affect environments. This work represents a continuation of AMNET-R’s partnership with Handicap international.
In addition, AMNET-R wants to conduct landmine surveys in eastern DRC to establish the level of the landmine contamination in the districts of Beni and Bunia which border Uganda. These surveys would serve as pilots for landmine surveys in other parts of North and South Kivu Provinces which have been subject to years of conflict and instability. AMNET-R is currently looking for an international partner to help implement the DRC surveys and would welcome any inquiries.
AMNET-R has a small staff and a broad network of volunteers. Their head office is located in the western Uganda town of Kasese on plot 28 Rwenzori road and they can be reached via email at email@example.com or directly through their General Secretary, Mr. Wilson Bwambale at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Handicap International UK can be reached via their website, http://www.handicap-international.org.uk/; on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/HandicapInternationalUK; and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/hi_uk.
My thanks to Wilson Bwambale (AMNET-R) and Beatrice Cami (HI-UK) for providing me with the information and images to prepare this piece. Any mistakes are my own.
Michael P. Moore, September 8, 2011