Plagued by a succession of conflicts from the 1960s to the 1980s, the Central African nation of Chad is still contaminated by landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW). In October 2014, Handicap International launched new efforts to clear ERW and help survivors in Chad.
Recently, a team of five surveyors arrived in Moyen-Chari, a region of southern Chad, to conduct surveys in areas thought to be contaminated by ERW. No records were kept detailing the locations of explosives, so the surveyors had to rely on the memory of the local elders to identify potentially hazardous sites. In his travel log below, Denis Ricca, the manager of Handicap International’s team of surveyors, describes the challenging work of identifying polluted areas and educating community members about the risks posed by mines and ERW.
Day 1 to 2: We depart from N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, for a two-day journey south to Danamadji, a town near the border with Central Africa Republic. Numerous accidents with ERW have been reported there.
Day 3: We arrive at Danamadji and meet with the local authorities and tell them about Handicap International. It’s a basic formality, but it allows us to get official support.
Day 4: We meet with local opinion leaders such as school principals and priests (most people in Moyen Chari are Christian) and are granted permission to conduct risk education sessions in the schools. The team shows the students and teachers pictures of landmines and other ERW so they are able to identify dangerous objects they might encounter. We discussed different ways accidents can happen, such as playing with unfamiliar metal objects, and ensure the students know what to do when they encounter a potential threat. Overall, we reached 1,676 students and teachers.
Day 5: We try to raise the awareness of cattle breeders at the cattle market. Using a megaphone, we invite them to meetings. No one comes. When we shout “your cattle may be in danger” over the megaphone, they all come. More than 100 take part in the session. A follow-up survey with group members reveals the locations of four unexploded shells: two are in a school playground, one is under a private house, and another is on a small square. They have been there for thirty years!
Day 6: Our security situation changes as Boko Haram threatens to move into Chad. Our communications are temporarily cut off.
Day 7: We conduct more risk education sessions with small groups of students in Moussafoio. We’re expecting a higher number of ERW in this area, so we spend more time with each group.
Day 8: The team conducts surveys in two villages further to the south, where a truck carrying explosives fell into the river a few years ago. At least one fisherman has been killed after catching an explosive in his net.
Day 9: We spend the day educating fishermen in area about how to protect themselves from ERW.
Day 10: We meet two accident survivors in the village of Gnala. In Motomolo, we try to identify the potentially polluted areas. We ask local people to tell us about past accidents. In 1984, a fire on the riverbank triggered an explosion, killing one person and injuring another. In 1986, a fisherman was killed when he struck an explosive device. In 1992, two people repairing a canoe were injured.
Day 11: Our journey further south is blocked due to deteriorating security conditions.
Day 12: We head north to the edge of the Guera region, which was bombarded after a failed coup d’état in 2008. Korbol, the biggest village in the district, was attacked by helicopters and rockets. Some bombs fell on the banks of the river but did not explode. The last violence in this area occurred in 2013. We know there is a buried weapons depot nearby but we have not located it yet. It may contain mortar shells.
We have much work ahead of us.
Handicap International conduct demining operations in Chad for at least the next four years. Make a gift now to help us prevent more deaths and injuries from explosive remnants of war.