In July 2022, Humanity & Inclusion declared the Inzá municipality free of landmines, explosive devices and unexploded ordnance. Over a period of two years, the organization conducted demining operations in eight locations spanning more than three acres in Inzá – land that has now been released back to the region’s 27,000 residents.
"We hope that the land we surveyed will contribute to the construction of a more equal society, to social development and to the development of ecotourism in the region," Arturo Bureo, Humanity & Inclusion's Director of Operations in Colombia, said at a ceremony marking the land’s release back to local communities. "And above all, we hope that the decontamination of Inzá will benefit the indigenous and farming communities that live there."
Igniting economic growth
Located southeast of Bogotá, Inzá boasts archaeological, architectural and natural wealth. But, as in many parts of the country, indigenous and farming communities have long had to contend with the legacy of mines and improvised explosive devices left over from armed conflict.
Among the most notable landmarks is the National Archaeological Park of Tierradentro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Because of the suspected presence of explosive devices, it has never been fully explored or reached its potential as a tourism destination. The municipality is also home to the La Casa del Pueblo public library, which has received a national award for Colombian libraries. With landmine contamination abated, these natural and cultural treasures will again be able to contribute to the region’s development and help revive the local economy.
Justiniano Pencué, a farmer from the indigenous community of Nasa, has waited 10 years to plant and cultivate his land safely. During that time, the danger posed by explosive devices on his land prevented him from expanding his coffee farm.
Now, Justiniano can return to his land without fear. He has a nursery of 5,000 coffee plants ready to be sown and harvested in areas that are finally free of mines.
"I am already preparing the land to plant my coffee,” Justiniano (pictured) says. “With these crops, we’ll be able to make a living to feed ourselves."
Restoring safety to neighbors
Diana Milena Pacho, a member of the indigenous community of San José, is a non-technical demining survey assistant at Humanity & Inclusion. For two years, she worked hand in hand with her neighbors, surveying more than 14 areas suspected of explosive device contamination. Through her work, Diana has helped restore confidence to the people of Inzá, who can now safely live, work and play.
“I have been able to pass on what I've learned to my community, explaining to people not to touch explosives and teaching my family how to be careful,” Diana explains. “With the threat of explosive devices gone, we can now walk around without worrying, work in safety and visit the tourist sites without fear.”
In addition to clearance operations, teams organized 45 mine risk education workshops to help residents learn how to spot, avoid and report explosive weapons. Nearly 6,000 families participated in education sessions.
Mine action in Colombia
Dating back to 1990, 12,200 people have been injured or killed by explosive devices in Colombia. Behind only Afghanistan, Colombia has the second highest number of mine victims in the world. Mine clearance and victim assistance are vital in helping communities safely reclaim their land, boost the local economy and rebuild the social fabric.
With funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, Humanity & Inclusion implements mine clearance actions in the five Colombian departments of Cauca, Meta, Nariño, Antioquia and Caquetá. Across Colombia, Humanity & Inclusion has surveyed more than 222,000 acres to identify areas of possible contamination. As part of its holistic approach to mine action, teams also provide mine risk education to affected communities, offer psychosocial support and rehabilitation care to survivors of these dangerous weapons, and help them find gainful employment.
Inzá is the second municipality in which Humanity & inclusion has completed its humanitarian demining operations, following the release of Puracé to its residents in October 2021.
Colombia is among the signatories of the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, which marks its 25th anniversary this year. While the U.S. has made progress in its anti-personnel landmine policy, it has yet to join the near-universal treaty.