Humanity & Inclusion has launched new mine clearance operations in Casamance, Senegal, to help communities safely access their villages, schools and medical facilities.
The new operations in southern Senegal launched in May 2022. The operations, which will last until March 2023, are focused on Kaour and Adéane, in the regions of Ziguinchor and Sédhiou.
"In these regions, the areas surrounding some schools, medical centers, roads, villages and fields are still polluted, or are suspected of being polluted by explosive devices," says explains Abdourahmane Ba, head of mine clearance operations in Senegal. "But as the number of vital infrastructures is limited, it is essential that people have safe access to them."
Approximately 25 acres of land need to be released back to the communities. The aim is to clear areas contaminated by mines and other explosive devices and investigate suspected hazardous areas.
Dating back to 2008, the Humanity & Inclusion’s deminers cleared more than 116 acres of land during previous actions in Senegal.
Diverse mine clearance techniques
Humanity & Inclusion has set up its operational base about 30 miles from Ziguinchor. The teams stay there for 10 days while they carry out operations, then have a 3-day rest in town. The demining staff recruited for the project have more than 10 years' field experience. The teams are made up of a project manager, an operations manager, two team leaders, six deminers, two nurses, two community liaison officers, a mechanic, two development officers and three drivers. In total, 10 deminers work for Humanity & Inclusion in Casamance, including two women.
"We do manual demining,” Ba explains. “Deminers inspect the land with metal detectors, inch by inch, along a marked corridor.”
Humanity & Inclusion also does mechanical demining, using the Digger, a demining machine that extracts mines and explosive remnants from the ground. Ba explains that the machine is mainly used in areas where there is a suspicion of undetectable mines such as the Belgian-made PRBM35 and the Spanish-made C3A/B, which are frequently found in Casamance.
"We are also planning to use drones to support our demining activities," Ba adds. "Among other things, they will improve our mapping of suspected hazardous areas. They’ve been used successfully in the Chadian desert, but now we need to test them in a different environment. In Casamance, we are demining in an environment mainly composed of forests and dense vegetation.”
A mission is underway to evaluate the feasibility of using drones.
Working in the rainiest region in Senegal, operations will have to adapt to the rainy season, which runs from July to October. Torrential rains would slow down demining activities, and for safety reasons neither deminers nor the Digger can work on flooded ground.
Working alongside communities
"Alongside the demining activities, Humanity & Inclusion conducts awareness and risk education sessions in the region, in partnership with the Senegalese association of mine victims," Ba continues. "The aim is to understand the habits of the population and to suggest safe behaviors that are adapted to their daily lives. Thanks to the work done by our liaison officers, all the members of the communities—including people with disabilities, women or the elderly—are involved in deciding which areas should be cleared as a priority.”
Humanity & Inclusion will also accompany communities once they start returning to the cleared areas and contribute to economic recovery. The organization will provide people with construction materials, and will also support the development of income-generating activities.
Contamination in Senegal
Armed independence groups and Senegalese government forces have been in conflict for almost 40 years. Anti-personnel mines and anti-tank mines, which were used on a massive scale in the region between 1990 and 2000, still threaten civilians today. Between 1988 and 2017, almost 850 people fell victim to mines or explosive remnants of war.
n Casamance, nearly 300 acres of land are still suspected of being contaminated and need to be made safe. With its substantial natural resources and strong agricultural, mining and fishing potential, clearing land in Casamance is a humanitarian and development priority.
Senegal hopes to achieve its goal of becoming “mine-free” by 2025.