After seven years of war, Yemen is heavily contaminated by mines, remnants of bombs, and other explosive weapons. Humanity & Inclusion is raising awareness about the dangers they pose.
Douglas Kilama, Humanity & Inclusion risk education coordinator, explains how explosive weapons impact Yemen and the civilians living there.
What is the extent of the contamination in Yemen?
It is impossible to have a precise idea or even an estimate of the contamination due to the current fighting and the impossibility to collect data. But Yemen is believed to be one of the most heavily contaminated countries in the world.
I am shocked by the diversity of the contamination here: mines, improvised mines, abandoned explosive ordnances, unexploded ordnances, improvised explosive devices cluster munitions, etc. The extent of the contamination by improvised mines is unbelievable. Analysis of some 2,400 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) since 2017 found that 70% of them are mines of improvised nature: meaning they are detonated by the presence, proximity, or contact of a person or a vehicle.
Contamination is especially high along Yemen’s west coast, near the strategic port of Hodeida, Taiz governorate and more recently around Marib, a focus of intense fighting in 2020. These mines are used in a traditional fashion: in order to slow down or block the progress of enemy forces or protect a strategic point. We also got reports on marine mines and marine improvised mines in Mocha and Hodeida. Civilians are always the first victims of this contamination.
How these IEDs are produced?
There are large stocks of explosive ordnance which are either unexploded or abandoned in Yemen. They can be used as raw material to produce IEDs. After aerial bombings, remnants of exploded bombs can also be used as raw material to produce improvised explosive devices. But parties to armed conflicts are not the only one to use mines. Recent UN experts indicate the rising use of improvised devices by criminal groups.
Where and how do mine-related incidents occur?
The UN Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen reported 1,300 civilians “affected in landmine or explosive remnants related incidents” in 2020. Most of the accidents occur during people’s daily activities: going to a well to fetch water, farming crops or tending livestock, using public infrastructures such as roads, buildings, education and health facilities. Accidents occur in urban areas as well as in rural areas. For the vast majority of the population, the presence of this contamination is new, and they do not know how to deal with it. They have no knowledge on the danger. Risk education programs are urgently needed to avoid accident and protect the population.
What action is Humanity & Inclusion taking against this contamination?
We will start awareness campaigns in Mocha and Al-Khokha districts of Taiz and Al-Hodeida governorates respectively as well as Hajjah, Sanaa and Aden governorates in March. We will have eight teams of two Risk Education Agents each to conduct awareness sessions in hospitals, schools, and public infrastructures. We also plan door-to-door sessions in the south, and with internally displaced people at camps as there are still large movements of population to and from Hodeida and Taiz.
The messages are very simple: First, we present images of explosive devices for the audience to recognize the threats. Stop, do not approach or touch, warn others nearby not to approach or touch it, remember the place by putting a warning sign from a safe distance, return the way that you came from and seek a safe route. Report the location of the object to authority.
The audience are also made aware of common places where these items are most likely to be found by teaching them how to identify warning signs and clues indicating possible presence of explosive ordnance in their areas and how to avoid them.
Douglas Felix Kilama is the Risk Education Coordinator for Humanity & Inclusion in Yemen. He is based in Sanaa.
Douglas has 20 years of experience in humanitarian work with specialization in explosive ordnance risk education, victim assistance and protection of children associated with armed forces or groups. In addition to Yemen, he has worked in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jordan, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Uganda.
He holds a M.A in Diplomacy & International Studies from Uganda Martyrs University and B.A in Literature and Political Science from Makerere University.
On Dec. 10, 1997, Humanity & Inclusion (formerly Handicap International) was co-awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as a member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Twenty-four years later, the fight to protect civilians continues.
In the 1980s and 1990s, on average 26,000 people a year were killed by anti-personnel mines. The vast majority were women and children.
Outraged by this injustice, Humanity & Inclusion co-founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in 1992. The coalition’s campaign to outlaw these “cowardly weapons” lasted five years.
The campaign led to the formation of a global community protest movement. Within five years, it had won a key victory: the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty in December 1997 in Ottawa, Canada. The first treaty to ban a conventional weapon, it was signed by 121 States. Today it has 164 States parties. The United States is not one of them.
The same year, the members of the ICBL, including Humanity & Inclusion, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their “role in the promotion of international efforts for a total ban on anti-personnel landmines.”
The prize recognized the tenacity of these civil society organizations in pressuring States to ban these weapons.
“As well as being extraordinarily fast, the Ottawa process rewrote the diplomatic rule book on drawing up international treaties,” says Philippe Chabasse, former co-director of Humanity & inclusion who was responsible for the ICBL campaign. “The pressure from NGOs, the media and public opinion opened the way for a form of public diplomacy powerful enough to hold the conventional diplomatic system in check. A decade earlier, many considered the astonishing proliferation of mines and the rise in civilian casualties as ‘collateral damage’ of conflicts.
“The Ottawa Convention was, in effect, not universally legally binding,” he continues. “However, it set a new standard of behavior that had a political influence on the attitudes of non-signatory States.”
“HI was awarded the Nobel prize, which gave us much greater visibility,” Chabasse explains. “The success of our international campaign still serves as a model, two decades on, for other NGOs who want to shift institutional lines in order to work on the causes of the tragedies they are committed to fighting.”
For Humanity & Inclusion, this fight does not end with the ban on anti-personnel mines or the clearance of contaminated areas. There is ongoing work to help victims rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
The organization continues to pursue its campaign and leads armed violence reduction programs in 18 countries. This requires Humanity & Inclusion to work in extremely fragile situations, such as those in Iraq and Yemen, and in countries contaminated by mines or explosive devices left over from previous conflicts, like Colombia and Chad.
Civilians continue to bear the brunt of other weapons, including cluster munitions, which Humanity & Inclusion helped ban under the Oslo Treaty in 2008. Mines killed or maimed 7,000 people in 2020, of whom 80% were civilians.
Humanity & Inclusion also leads a campaign to end the bombing of urban areas, since 90% of bombing casualties in populated areas are civilians.
The fight to end the use of anti-personnel mines and protect civilians is far from over.
Five years after the end of the Colombian armed conflict, tens of thousands of landmines are still threatening people's lives. More and more women are taking on the task of removing them.
Colombia is one of the countries most contaminated by mines in the world, with 28 out of 32 departments littered with these explosive remnants of war. Over the last 25 years, nearly 12,000 people have been injured or killed by landmines there.
Jennifer Diaz Gonzalez, 25, has been working as a deminer at Humanity & Inclusion since 2017. She is working to clear weapons in the region of Vista Hermosa, Meta, the department where she grew up and still lives with her young daughter.
“The whole region was under control by a guerrilla organization,” Jennifer says.
Her father was murdered by an armed group when she was only 1 year old, and her two older brothers were forcibly recruited to fight as teenagers.
"They have disappeared since then. And there is no hope of seeing them alive again,” she explains.
The path to a safe life
Over the last six months, Jennifer and her team have scanned nearly three acres of land. She knows her job puts her in constant danger and requires her full concentration.
Finding landmines in the heavily wooded areas in Vista Hermosa can be difficult. Once she locates an explosive device, she must carefully uncover it. She then marks the location to make it visible to others. Finally, the explosive device is either defused or detonated.
"Most of the mines we find are self-made explosive devices,” she says.
Jennifer knows that demining is the key to a safe life in Vista Hermosa. Only after Humanity & Inclusion’s specialists declare a region safe, can farmers tend the fields or children play and walk safely in their community. Jennifer takes pride in what she does.
"The local people have great respect for our work,” Jennifer explains. “We will make sure that the mines disappear so that farmers can grow coffee and keep livestock without danger. That is something very beautiful.”
In Vista Hermosa, Humanity & inclusion has been running a humanitarian civilian demining project since November 2016. This village has the highest number of landmine victims in Colombia. Lockdown periods, imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, had forced Humanity & Inclusion to put demining operations on pause. Activities have since resumed and, in 2021, teams have cleared more than 30 acres of land and destroyed more than 30 explosive artifacts, most of them improvised explosive devices.
Colombia’s first mine-free municipality
On October 20, Humanity & Inclusion returned the Puracé municipality to its residents, free from landmine contamination. It was the first municipality in which Humanity & Inclusion has completed humanitarian demining operations. With funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, Humanity & Inclusion is working to clear 10 other municipalities in Colombia.
“We celebrate that communities feel safer today,” says Nicola Momentè, Regional Director for Latin America at Humanity & Inclusion. “Thanks to demining activities, lives have been saved and communities have recovered their rights. From now on, they can use their land, thanks to the hard work that was developed over the last three years between the communities, our local partner and Humanity & Inclusion.”
Mine action in Puracé included the implementation of inclusive socio-economic projects. Since the end of 2020, Humanity & Inclusion has provided start-up capital to 14 businesses started by people with disabilities—including a restaurant, coffee production and cattle breeding operation.
Humanity & Inclusion also supported an eco-touristic project in the municipality by helping with a market analysis. Puracé is located near Coconuco Natural Park, a mountainous area suitable for hiking and birdwatching. The community of Puracé leads an ancestral and cultural eco-touristic project, which they hope to develop now that hiking in the mountains is safe again.
Finally, Humanity & Inclusion conducted mine-risk education to hundreds of people who call Puracé home. The organization and its local partners held sessions on how to spot, avoid and report explosive weapons and shared safety measures likes always walking on the marked path in a dangerous zone.
Humanity & Inclusion has launched a 5-year plan to train the Cambodian Self-Help Demining (CSHD)—a local mine action organization—to take over residual contamination actions after 2025, when Cambodia aims to be landmine-free.
Contamination is considered massive in Cambodia with more than 270 square miles littered with landmines or cluster munitions, remnants of the Vietnam War and civil war in the 1970s and 80s. Over 1 million landmines and almost 3 million explosive ordnances such as cluster munitions, grenades, and mortars have been removed in Cambodia since 1992. But clearance efforts must continue to reach the designation of mine-free.
Under the International Mine Ban Treaty, a country is declared "mine-free" when all "reasonable" efforts have been made to ensure the country's decontamination, but sporadic explosive ordnance may remain in overlooked areas. In those instances, international mine action leaves the country and passes the responsibility to local organizations.
CHSD was officially founded in 2007 by Aki Ra, a Khmer man and former child soldier. CSHD works in rural villages throughout Cambodia with a group of approximately 25 mine clearance specialists. Since 2008, the organization has cleared weapons from nearly 3 square miles of land.
Training mine clearance experts
How are surveys implemented to identify contaminated areas? How are former battlefields cleared? How can organizations intervene immediately after an explosive ordnance has been reported by a resident? Humanity & Inclusion has been training a dozen CSHD mine action specialists in these tasks since January 2021, including procedures of intervention, planning, and security rules. Humanity & Inclusion is also training the CSHD experts to conduct sustainable and cost-efficient operations and to ensure quality management with technical supervision.
“Humanity & Inclusion supports the clearance experts in their current mine detection and disposal operations," explains Julien Kempeneers, Humanity & Inclusion's Regional Armed Violence Reduction and Humanitarian Mine Action Specialist. "The proposed training is largely dedicated directly to clearance and survey with a target of 8.7 million square feet cleared in target areas this year. We also focus on the cost efficiency of the operations. CSHD estimates that the cost of clearance is about 35 cents per 10 square feet.
"Humanity & Inclusion is supporting CSHD in becoming an autonomous key player within five years," Kempeneers continues. "The local organization will remain in the country after 2025, when other international organizations will be leaving. This is our main goal of development: to empower local actors to take on this responsibility.”
The training started in January and will end in December.
Landmines threaten communities
With an estimated 4 to 6 million explosive ordnances left over after conflict, Cambodia is considered to be among the most affected countries. Explosive ordnances severely affect civilian security and rural livelihoods by impeding access to productive resources, markets and broader development, such as building schools, hospitals or wells.
Civilians collect items of ordnance for their value, as scrap metal, or the explosives they contain. If not disposed of safely, the consequences are often fatal or lead to lifelong disabilities. Given the magnitude of contamination and the country’s current response capacity, the threat remains a major safety and development obstacle for Cambodians in nearly half of its 14,300 villages.
The partnership with CSHD focuses on the Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces, where an estimated 12,300 residents will benefit from safer access to their environment and improved access to resources. The goal is to hand over cleared land to local communities, so they can use it for housing and farming.
These mine action activities are funded by the U.S. Department of State Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (WRA).
Humanity & Inclusion’s Armed Violence Reduction department supervises weapons clearance, risk education and conflict transformation programs, which play a vital role in the reconstruction of countries after war.
Perrine Benoist, Director of Armed Violence Reduction at Humanity & Inclusion, tells us more about the department and its work.
Q: Tell us about Armed Violence Reduction at Humanity & Inclusion.
There are about 10 of us on the team. We supervise all HI programs related to mine action, in which the organization has been involved for many years, starting with mine clearance (including field surveys with local communities to identify contaminated areas and the neutralization of explosives), and risk education on explosive weapons to boost the safety and development of communities.
Casualties are frequently excluded because their injuries often result in disabilities, so we also promote their inclusion in society and employment.
We do advocacy work to inform, alert and mobilize States and funding bodies in order to address the causes of conflict, the problems raised by the weapons used in them, and their immediate and long-term consequences for the communities involved. In recent years, for example, we’ve provided testimony on the exponential increase in improvised explosive devices, the unprecedented scale of contamination in Iraq and Syria, and the need to update weapons clearance practices to include drones, etc.
Q: What do we need to know about “conflict transformation”?
The proliferation of weapons and explosive ordnance means we need to take a new approach and tackle the root causes of war, now and in the future. Our “conflict transformation” projects aim to change the behavior of communities and the relationships between them in conflict situations with the potential for violence, and to understand the social structures that foster and condition violent political and social conflicts.
Conflict transformation is based on addressing trauma and grievances between communities to prevent the escalation of a conflict, including by treating the collective trauma caused by violence and promoting mediation and reconciliation.
Q: Why are we taking action?
80% of humanitarian crises are now conflict related. Conflicts are increasingly complex, with multiple causes—such as drought and ethnic rivalry—and multiple actors, including national military, rebel groups and international coalitions. The line between periods of peace and violence is increasingly blurred.
The destruction caused by conflicts and contamination by explosive remnants of war often prevents the healing of the social divide and the resumption of local economic activity, because contaminated fields cannot be farmed, markets cannot be held, and people are less and less able to move from village to village because the journey is increasingly dangerous. Action on mines and explosive remnants of war is essential to help rebuild communities.
Q: How do we work alongside impacted communities?
We work with local communities to ensure our actions promote community cohesion and the economic recovery of conflict-affected regions. We talk with them to decide which areas to clear as a priority. A village might ask us to clear a certain area because then they can farm the fields and start to sell their goods again, for example.
Q: Where does armed violence reduction team work?
At this time, Humanity & inclusion is clearing weapons in Colombia, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Chad, and soon Senegal. It implements risk education campaigns in some 20 countries. Humanity & inclusion also organizes victim assistance programs—centered on functional rehabilitation—in more than 40 countries.
Header image: Deminers complete a weapons clearance training in Colombia. Copyright: HI; Inline image: Portrait of Perrine Benoist, Director of Armed Violence Reduction at Humanity & Inclusion
Silver Spring, MD – Released today, the 2021 Cluster Munition Monitor reports the number of cluster munition casualties has increased by 30% in three years to at least 360 casualties in 2020, up from 277 in 2018. This increase is mainly due to new attacks using cluster munitions during the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict in October 2020. The conference of State Parties to the Oslo Convention, which bans the use of cluster munitions, takes place September 20-21.
Humanity & Inclusion is calling on states to enforce international law and for States, including the United States of America, to join the Convention.
The 2021 Cluster Munition Monitor report assesses the implementation of the Oslo Convention*, which bans the use, production, transfer and storage of cluster munitions. The report focuses on the calendar year for 2020, with information included up to August 2021 where possible.
Among the key findings for 2020:
- There are at least 360 new cluster munition casualties in 2020 globally – 142 casualties from attacks using these weapons and 218 as a result of cluster munition
- This figure represents a 30% increase in three years (317 casualties in 2019, 277 in 2018). The main cause for this is the use of cluster munitions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in October 2020. At least 107 people were killed or injured during these attacks.
- Half of all casualties in 2020 (182) were recorded in Syria.
- A total of 107 people were killed and 242 others were injured. The survival status for 11 casualties remains unknown.
- Civilians accounted for all casualties whose status was recorded in 2020. Children accounted for 44% of all casualties.
“In the last three years, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of victims of cluster munitions, we must never tolerate atrocity,” says Perrine Benoist, Humanity & Inclusion’s Armed Violence Reduction Specialist. “We must constantly remind States and armed groups that the use of these weapons is banned and that international law must be enforced.”
Of the 360 total casualties in 2020, 218 were casualties from cluster munitions remnants. Casualties from cluster munitions remnants were reported in 7 countries including Syria (147 casualties), Iraq (31) and South Sudan (16). Up to 40% of the sub-munitions do not explode on impact and leave remnants that pose a threat to the local population.
“The impact of cluster munitions is horrific especially when they are used in areas with a high population density,” says Gary Toombs, Humanity & Inclusion’s Global EOD Specialist. “Civilians are killed. Cluster munitions kill and maim people at the moment of use, but unexploded cluster munitions will continue to pose a lethal threat to civilian lives for years to come.”
Cluster munitions attacks were also reported in Syria, resulting in 35 casualties. Syria is the only country to experience continued use of these weapons since 2012.
Progress to date
Since the Convention came into force on August 1, 2010, 36 State Parties have destroyed 1.5 million cluster munition stockpiles, totaling 178 million sub-munitions. This represents 99% of all cluster munitions declared by State Parties. Overall, 26 states and three regions remain contaminated by sub-munition remnants worldwide.
“The Oslo Convention has made great strides in protecting civilians against the scourge of cluster munitions,” Benoist adds. “Every year, existing stockpiles are destroyed and significant areas of contaminated land are cleared, while these weapons are increasingly stigmatized. But that is still not enough.”
- Cluster bombs are weapons containing several hundred mini-bombs called cluster munitions. Designed to be scattered over large areas, they inevitably fall in civilian neighborhoods. Up to 40% do not explode on impact. Like anti-personnel mines, they can be triggered by the slightest contact, killing and maiming people during and after conflicts. As they make no distinction between civilians, civilian property and military targets, cluster bombs violate the rules of international humanitarian law.
- *The Oslo Convention (known as the Convention on Cluster Munitions) which bans the use, storage, transfer, production and sale of cluster munitions, was opened for signatures in December 2008. Currently, 123 countries are signatories to this convention.
Humanity & Inclusion’s experts available for interview:
- Gary Toombs, Global EOD Specialist
- Perrine Benoist, Armed Violence Reduction Specialist
- Marion Guillaumont, Armed Violence Reduction Advocacy
About Humanity & Inclusion
Humanity & Inclusion is an independent international aid organization. It has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster for 39 years. Working alongside people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, our action and testimony are focused on responding to their essential needs, improving their living conditions and promoting respect for their dignity and basic rights. Since it was founded in 1982, Humanity & Inclusion (formerly Handicap International) has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. There are eight national associations within the network (Germany, Belgium, Canada, United States, France, Luxembourg, United Kingdom and Switzerland), working tirelessly to mobilize resources, co-manage projects and increase the impact of the organization’s principles and actions. HI is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize and winner of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2011. HI takes action and campaigns in places where “living in dignity” is no easy task.
Press contact: Mica Bevington | +1 202-290-9264 | [email protected]
From clearing explosive weapons to helping entrepreneurs launch their own businesses to assisting people with disabilities and mine victims, Humanity & Inclusion has stepped up its actions in northern Chad since 2017.
Rachel Datché, 33, was traveling to see her sister when she stepped on an anti-personnel mine in Fada. After her right leg was amputated, she received an artificial limb and post-surgical care at the orthopedic and rehabilitation center in Kabalaye in 2020. Rachel (pictured above) is one of the participants in PRODECO, a vast development program coordinated by Humanity & Inclusion in consortium with three other NGOs. The four-year project to help restore the economic sustainability of the local population will wrap at the end of 2021.
“This wide-reaching program includes mine clearance operations, risk prevention, victim assistance, rehabilitation and economic assistance,” explains Jean-Michel Mathiam, who manages Humanity & Inclusion’s actions in northern Chad.
Legacy of war
The Borku and Ennedi regions were ravaged by civil war and conflict with neighboring Libya in the 1980s, leaving land contaminated by anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. Humanity & Inclusion recently completed its mine clearance operations in northern Chad, which helps people living in rural and agricultural areas earn a living by ensuring the roads leading to their villages are clear of mines.
In Faya and Kirdimi, more than 740 acres of land have been decontaminated through weapons clearance operations. More than 1,000 mines were destroyed by 120 deminers coordinated by Humanity & Inclusion and Mine Advisory Group MAG.
Teams also tested a drone mine detection system. The technology will revolutionize mine clearance operations worldwide.
Supporting small businesses
Since Oreike Bandy’s divorce four years ago, the 38-year-old mother has struggled to feed her family by selling bread at a market in Fada. She’s one of more than 1,000 people who have received a financial boost through a social fund to start her own business and become financially independent.
“I joined the village savings and loan organization [AVEC] and put aside some of my earnings each week to invest in the AVEC. This enables me to renew my stock of food products,” Oreike, pictured above, explains.
Ache Guene, 38, lost her husband four years ago and was suddenly faced with the difficult task of raising their five children alone. With help from Humanity & Inclusion, she also set up her own business and lifted her family out of poverty.
Maimouna Abass, a 30-year-old widow and mother of two children, now runs her own market stall in Fada, where she sells biscuits to earn a living.
"My life has changed. I can reinvest my profits in my business,” she says.
In 2017, Humanity & Inclusion launched a large-scale development program called PRODECO in partnership with three other NGOs: Mine Advisory Group (MAG), the Swiss Foundation for Demining (FSD), and Secours catholique et développement (SECADEV). Humanity & Inclusion recently completed its mine clearance operations in northern Chad. The organization will continue identifying people with disabilities, primarily victims of mines or explosive remnants of war, in villages and communities to participate in the project through 2021.
On her path to recovery after stepping on an explosive device, Alima, 16, participates in rehabilitation sessions with Humanity & Inclusion specialists.
After finishing up a trip to the market in Bambari one Sunday in May, Alima was ready to embark on the six-mile walk home. With each step, she was careful to avoid the dangers she had heard about: active explosive devices hiding silently in the rocks and dirt beneath her feet, left behind from intense conflict in the Central African Republic.
Knowing the risks, Alima’s brother had taught her a safe route to the market through the grass. Following his instructions, she arrived safely to the market. But on her way home, Alima forgot the way and veered off the path. She stepped on an explosive weapon.
The blast severely damaged both of Alima’s legs, making it difficult to get out of her bed or perform routine activities. Today, Alima is in the Bambari hospital, where she is visited daily by Humanity & Inclusion’s physical therapists.
“Since I spend most of my time lying down or sitting after the accident, the HI physical therapists come every day to do exercises on my legs and feet,” Alima explains. “They keep my muscles working, so that when my wounds heal I can recover more quickly and be independent again.”
With the help of these regular rehabilitation visits and proper medical treatment, Alima will soon leave the hospital and return to living her life at home. Humanity & inclusion teams will continue to work with Alima through the healing process and beyond.
Image: Alima sits on her bed at the Bambari hospital. Copyright: A. Servant/HI, 2021
Humanity & Inclusion launched its weapons clearance operations in Laos in June 1996. 25 years later, teams continue to help decontaminate the country.
In Laos, Humanity & Inclusion implements multiple mine clearance, risk education, victim assistance and advocacy programs related to the explosive weapons—many dropped by the U.S. military—left over from the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Julien Kempeneers, Humanity & Inclusion’s Mine Action manager in Laos, reflects on the challenges of mine action:
We launched our first mine clearance operations in Laos in June 1996. It’s a special type of mine clearance, because rather than clearing anti-personnel mines we "collect" the remains of exploded ordnance, bomb fragments, explosive remnants, grenades, munitions, etc. Weapons clearance experts also find large bombs—many weighing several hundred pounds—that did not explode on impact, and transport them to a special site for destruction.
Laos is best known for its contamination with cluster bombs—small bombs the size of tennis balls—which we detonate on site. After we find them with a metal detector, we set up a security perimeter and detonate them at the end of every day.
In Houaphan, where we’ve been working since 2018, we’re also finding anti-personnel mines. So we’d like to begin clearing mines there using conventional methods in the near future.
Laos is the country with the highest level of cluster munition contamination in the world. Some 450 square miles of hazardous areas have already been identified.
Weapons clearance organizations have found around 200 different types of munitions. To help record this diverse range of explosives, Humanity & Inclusion published a submunitions catalogue which is now used by all weapons clearance organizations in Laos.
Rural and remote areas
The worst-contaminated areas are the rural and remote regions of eastern Laos, on the border with Vietnam. People still regularly fall victim to these weapons, including villagers, farmers working their fields, and far too many children. For many years, we’ve been running information campaigns to teach local people how to spot hazards and what action to take. We help them recognize suspicious objects and advise them to keep their distance, refrain from touching the objects, mark the area with whatever is handy—like an “X” of branches—and alert the authorities or Humanity & Inclusion, who will come and destroy the bomb.
Why clear weapons?
Contaminated areas become a “no man's land.” People are afraid of triggering an explosion, so they don’t dare go there. Fields lie empty and swaths of countryside go to waste. It’s impossible to build schools or lay roads to open up villages.
By clearing weapons, we’re restoring land to communities who haven’t been able to use it for decades.
When will mine clearance end in Laos?
It’s impossible to say when we’re going to finish clearing the country of explosive remnants. We still don't know the extent of the contamination, and it's likely it will take at least another 30, 40 or 50 years. This gives you an idea of the dreadful problems caused by land contaminated with mines, bombs and cluster munitions. The country was contaminated in the late 1960s, and we’ll probably still be clearing these weapons a century later, in the mid-21st century.
Image: A team of deminers in Laos remove a 500-pound bomb, which was later safely destroyed, in 2018. Copyright: N.Lozano Juez/HI
In March, Humanity & Inclusion finalized its two-year drone experimentation in Northern Chad with its partners Mobility Robotics and FlyingLabs Côte d’Ivoire.
For the first time in the history of humanitarian mine action, drone flights were operated with Infra-Red in a real environment alongside weapons clearance operations.
Throughout the two-year project, Humanity & Inclusion tested drones to map and inspect hazardous areas. Teams in Chad captured photos and videos remotely to help deminers inspect unreachable locations and identify hazards on the surface and also created high-resolution maps to study signs of contamination such as craters or traces of landmine accidents involving animals or vehicles.
Humanity & Inclusion and its partners achieved a world-first in humanitarian mine action when teams used a thermal sensor flown on a small drone to locate buried anti-personnel and anti-vehicle landmines in desert minefields.
Teams faced daily challenges including remote locations, road hazards, extreme heat up to 124°F, sandstorms, food and water difficulties, scorpions, and landmine and explosive ordnances.
During those two years:
- More than 100 drone missions took place in 65 locations
- Travel to hazardous areas from the base took between 30 minutes and 1.5 days
- More than 35 polygons and 19 miles of strip minefields were mapped
- More than 2,500 landmines were located with the thermal sensor
- Dozens of nights were spent in the desert under the stars
- Six Chadian deminers were trained to operate small drones
This innovative project was made possible with generous funding from The Belgian Directorate-General Development and the European Union, and with support from people of the Haut Commissariat National de Déminage au Tchad.