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Demining in Chaparral raises new hopes

Explosive weapons

Since October 2021, HI has been conducting humanitarian demining operations in El Cañón de Las Hermosas in Colombia, allowing communities to regain the use of their land.

A deminer wearing protective gear, working on a muddy slope with equipment

A deminer working in the Chaparral area, where teams have to cope with regular flooding, rockslides and landslides. | © J. M. Vargas / HI

Four areas in El Cañón de Las Hermosas are potentially contaminated by explosive devices: El Escobal, La Aurora, El Davis and Las Hermosas Natural Park, a protected nature reserve. Thanks to the surveys and clearance operations carried out by HI’s teams, the communities will soon be able to use their agricultural and pastoral lands again and gradually restore the ecosystem.

Demining in difficult conditions

The terrain around El Cañón de Las Hermosas is rugged and mountainous. Flooding, rockslides and landslides frequently block the only access road, cutting off the communities.

"To reach the work sites, the demining team has to travel on horseback for about five hours, crossing rivers and ravines," says Toni Vitola, head of the demining project in Chaparral.

Demining operations were launched in July of this year and Toni explains that HI's goal is to clear 460,000 square feet of land. The team of 10 or so deminers works for six weeks on site before having two weeks off.

"There is evidence of explosive devices in the first area we are going to clear. Detonations have been heard there and five cows disappeared after entering the area," adds Toni.

Supporting community projects

The areas where HI work are between 5,200 and 13,000 feet above sea level. They are traditionally used by the communities to grow coffee, maize, bananas, yucca, and as pasture. The possible presence of explosive devices is currently preventing the inhabitants from making full use of their land. Thanks to HI's demining operations, they will soon be able to reclaim it in safety. During the first year of the project, 60 people also benefited from mine risk education.

To support community-led development projects, HI also organizes consultations with the inhabitants to determine their priority needs. These consultations have led to the project development of constructing three large greenhouses. This project will be supported by HI.

Álvaro Lozano is a community liaison officer who works for HI. He comes from the Chaparral area himself and has inspiring hopes for his community - hopes that are shared by all the inhabitants of Chaparral:

"We have many dreams but I want to see more and more of them come true. I dream of a lasting peace, of lands that we can leave as a legacy for future generations. We all dream of lands that we can enjoy and where we can develop green tourism," says Álvaro.

Areas heavily affected by the armed conflict

El Cañón de Las Hermosas is an area marked by a long history of armed conflict. For more than 50 years, the communities here have suffered the humanitarian consequences of this conflict: forced displacement, confinement, forced recruitment, accidents caused by explosive devices, to name but a few.

"I was confined to my house for two years because an armed group ordered it. I couldn't bear the idea of being locked up on my own land," says Álvaro.

Since the peace agreements, the region’s natural wealth is being rediscovered. It is home to almost 50,000 hectares of forests, lagoons, wetlands and "paramos"- the high plateaus of the Andes. Species of flora and fauna, including endangered species, thrive here that are found nowhere else. As Álvaro points out, the presence of these indiscriminate explosive devices also affects wildlife.

These activities are made possible by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.

Date published: 10/24/22


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