Humanity & Inclusion is conducting humanitarian demining operations in El Cañón de Las Hermosas in Colombia, helping communities regain the use of their land.
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. Through surveys and clearance operations carried out by Humanity & Inclusion’s teams, the communities will soon be able to use their agricultural and pastoral lands again and gradually restore the ecosystem.
The terrain around El Cañón de Las Hermosas is rugged and mountainous. Landslides, rockslides and flooding frequently block the only access road, cutting off communities.
"To reach the work sites, the demining team has to travel on horseback for about five hours, crossing rivers and ravines," explains Toni Vitola, head of the demining project in Chaparral.
With the first surveys of the area completed, demining operations were launched in July of this year. The team of 10 or so deminers works for six weeks on site before having two weeks off. They aim to clear 10 acres of explosive contamination.
During the first year of the project, 60 residents participated in mine risk education sessions.
"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," Vitola adds.
Prioritizing community needs
The areas where Humanity & Inclusion is working are between 5,000 and 13,000 feet above sea level. They are traditionally used by the communities to grow coffee, maize, bananas, yucca, and to raise livestock. A legacy of prior armed conflict, he possible presence of explosive devices prevents residents from making full use of their land. With support from Humanity & Inclusion’s demining operations, communities will soon be able to work, play and live without fear.
To support community-led development projects, Humanity & Inclusion organizes consultations with residents to determine which needs are top priorities. These consultations have led to the development of project to construct three large greenhouses, with support from Humanity & Inclusion.
Álvaro Lozano is a community liaison officer who works for Humanity & Inclusion. He comes from the Chaparral area himself and has high hopes for his neighbors and community:
"We have many dreams but I want to see more and more of them come true,” Lozano says. “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.”
Legacy of armed conflict
El Cañón de Las Hermosas is marked by a long history of armed conflict. For more than 50 years, communities have experienced the humanitarian consequences of this conflict: displacement, confinement, forced recruitment, accidents caused by explosive devices, and more.
"I was confined to my house for two years because an armed group ordered it,” Lozano shares. “I couldn't bear the idea of being locked up on my own land.”
Since the peace agreements, the region’s natural wealth is being rediscovered. It is home to almost 125,000 acres of forests, lagoons, wetlands and paramos—the high plateaus of the Andes. Species of flora and fauna—including endangered species—found only in the region thrive. But as Lozano points out, the presence of explosive devices affects this wildlife in addition to the people living in the region.
Humanity & Inclusion's demining operations in Chaparral and across Colombia are carried out with the support of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.