Congo: Reclaiming land after war


Handicap International Deminer, Jully Angwaito, tests the demining equipment on a training site in Bangboka, Kinsangani.

Since June, Handicap International and its local partner, AFRILAM (Afrique pour la lutte anti-mines) have cleared 990,000 square feet of land­–equivalent to 17 football fields–nine miles from Kisangani, a village in northeast DR Congo.

The operation has already saved more than 4,000 people from injury or death by neutralizing six anti-personnel mines–an explosive device designed to injure or kill people. Six Pressurized Mating Adapters also known as, PMA-2 type anti-personnel mines, two grenades, and an array of small arms ammunition were cleared near the villages of Bangboka and Batiabombe.

 “We don’t really know the lifespan of this type of mine [PMA-2], but based on its technology, it can function for about 50 years,” said Denis Ricca, Handicap International’s mine action coordinator of the Democratic Republic of Congo. “Laid in Congo in the 1990s, the PMA-2 mines are still dangerous.”

Mines and explosive remnants of war can pose a permanent threat to the local people of Congo years after conflict has ended. Since land, and even large swathes of territory, can no longer be used to grow crops or build roads, schools, and homes, the mines become an obstacle to economic growth.

Present in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1994, Handicap International’s team of 14 deminers will continue work in the depths of the Congolese forest with metal detectors and probes. “Each deminer clears two to four square feet each day, which is pretty slow,” says Denis. “The density of the vegetation is the main problem. Much less problematic is the fact that the ground is contaminated with metal waste, which can confuse the detectors.”

By December, the team hopes to clear enough land to give 4,200 villagers the opportunity to grow crops, raise livestock, and educate and raise their children.

Congo, a member of the Ottawa Convention, strives to be mine-free by January 2021.

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