When a conflict ends and the visible threats move out, it is often assumed all potential danger has moved on too. No longer are there groups of rebels or military fighting it out in the open or sounds of gunfire and explosions. All is calm. Or so it appears.
However, all too often, beneath the surface lie land mines and other unexploded ordnance planted in a time of conflict. Once the conflict has ceased, these items are often not removed and have no ability to discriminate between soldier, civilian, animal, child and machinery — in 2013 79 percent of casualties from land mines were civilians. All they need is the right amount of pressure to inflict a large amount of damage.
With over 100 million laid and active land mines globally — and that’s not to mention millions of tons of other UXO, such as rockets and improvised explosive devices — this still happens at an all too alarming rate. For instance, today, 56 states and four other areas (Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabakh, Somaliland and Western Sahara) are known to have hazardous antipersonnel land mine-contaminated areas.
To compound the issue, those who are injured by mines often struggle to find employment or health facilities to simply assist with mobility, such as prosthetics, crutches or wheelchairs. The presence of explosive remnants of war can also hamper freedom of movement, including the safe and voluntary return of displaced people, as well as the obstruction of delivery of aid or necessary goods by blocking routes and roads.
Collectively, the indiscriminate residual threat posed by land mines post-conflict leaves a legacy far greater than the individual suffering and personal injury inflicted upon those unfortunate enough step on a pressure plate. Land mines and other UXO also hamper future development and the ability for local communities to rebuild lives often shattered by the preceding chaos and instability wrought by war.
For example, land mines and UXO put a costly and time-intensive brake on the ability to develop affected land for agriculture, construction, excavation or infrastructure. One of the most frequent examples is that of farmers returning to their homes to suddenly find they may not be able to access many parts of their land due to the threat of injury or death. Some find the hindrance too much and take the risk — all too often paying the price with a limb or their lives. Worldwide in 2014, it was estimated that 3,308 people were injured or killed by land mines, roughly nine per day.
However, this number is slowly decreasing. With the help of funded programs and commercial mine action companies, like The Development Initiative, which remove these explosive hazards, the number of injuries has decreased by over a quarter from 2013, indicating that many lives are being saved when compared to the 25 each day reported in 1999.
Emergency mine action is often undertaken in settings where the security situation is changing or uncertain and is usually undertaken by the United Nations as part of a broader peacekeeping mission — this can be categorized as the emergency and humanitarian stage. Activities often support the role of the overall peacekeeping mission, such as clearing mines or explosive remnants of war to allow border patrols, monitoring and facilitating elections or weapons collection activities, enabling refugee movement, delivering relief supplies and so on. Often the initial efforts to clear mines and ERW builds support for the peace process through the direct impact on the community’s daily lives by eliminating risks, reopening transport routes and freeing up scarce resources, such as land and water sources.
A recent example of this is in South Sudan, where TDI has teams working in Malakal to keep the airfield — the only route in for people and supplies — clear of unexploded ordnance so planes can land and take off safely.
As humanitarian emergencies end and the security situation improves in a mine and UXO-affected country, priorities adjust to support reconstruction of key infrastructure and restoration of basic public amenities.
For example, I have spent much of my time in post-conflict zones, particularly in Africa, helping to clear the threat posed by land mines and ERW to allow the construction of much-needed infrastructure, like roads, to make regions accessible and reachable by machinery, business and investment alike. This included the construction of a 220-kilometer road from the Ugandan border to Juba: a vital route in the absence of a rail link that has helped facilitate greater trade via the easier movement of goods.
As part of the U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Sudan Infrastructure Support Program in Southern Sudan, TDI deployed a mechanical flail and tiller machine, two manual clearance teams and a dog team, leapfrogging up and down the road, ensuring that the road construction contractor has sufficient clear ground to work on. Over 30 land mines, including minimum metal mines, and 300 items of unexploded ordnance were removed from within the corridor in which the construction crews were working.
Undertaking such work helps ensure that regions, countries and communities once plagued by the legacy of war can move from phase one of crisis to phase two of development.
Ultimately, by overcoming the immediate obstacle posed by land mines and ERW, we hope to empower local communities by clearing the way and giving them a foundation from which to develop and prosper long into the future.
Hugh Morris is the managing director of The Development Initiative. He enjoyed a 10-year career in the British Army, serving as an officer with The Light Infantry regiment. He was involved in several operational tours, before retiring in 1995 and entering the demining business. He spent 10 years with Minetech, as operations director for more than half his time there, and then went on establish TDI.
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