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.
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).
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.
Three decades after the end of conflict, landmines and other explosive weapons continue to contaminate parts of Cambodia–making it unsafe for people to live and farm and limiting access to resources in some regions. These weapons remain an obstacle in more than 6,400 of Cambodia’s 14,300 villages.
To protect civilians, Humanity & Inclusion has teamed up with the local organization Cambodia Self-Help Demining (CSHD) to launch a new project to remove explosive weapons, teach locals how to stay safe and avoid explosive remnants of war, and create long-term mine action plans in Cambodia’s Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces.
The 12-month, $500,000 project is funded by the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
Humanity & Inclusion’s team will support CSHD in surveying land, removing landmines and explosive ordnance, and raising awareness among residents. The ultimate goal is to see CSHD build its own capacity to manage an autonomous mine clearance operation in Cambodia by 2025.
“We are excited to take on such an important project working alongside local villages to ensure people can live and work safely, without fear of losing their lives or limbs to explosive weapons,” says Emmanuel Sauvage, director of the Armed Violence Reduction unit at Humanity & Inclusion. “We are grateful to the U.S. government for recognizing the danger these leftover weapons pose for civilians in their everyday lives and for the support to develop sustainable local mine action capacities.”
In recent decades, organizations like Humanity & Inclusion have assisted the Cambodian government in its efforts to become mine free. With support from the U.S. government and other donors, organizations have removed more than 1 million landmines and 3 million other explosive remnants of war from approximately 700 square miles of land. But civilians are still in danger in another 772 square miles of land that is contaminated by such weapons.
Humanity & Inclusion counts more than 25 years of experience in mine action and first started clearing weapons in Cambodia in 1994. CSHD is a local organization that works to remove weapons in rural villages. The organization was founded in 2007, by a former Khmer child soldier.
This new project will support at least 35 staff in mine action activities, directly benefitting at least 500 people and indirectly helping more than 12,000 people across the two provinces have safer access to their land and resources.
Image: A man wearing protective gear kneels on the ground in a Cambodian village in 2012. He's placing a sign that warns of explosive remnants of war. Copyright: Eric Martin/Figaro Magazine/HI
After a decade of war, Syria has been completely contaminated by explosive remnants on a scale experts have never seen before. When the conflict ends, the complex work of clearing weapons and rebuilding the country will begin. Emmanuel Sauvage, Director of Armed Violence Reduction at Humanity & Inclusion, tells us more.
What makes contamination in Syria different?
There are two reasons why Syria is a special case when it comes to weapons clearance. The first is the very wide range of weapons used. After a decade of conflict, Syrian soil is contaminated by a complete spectrum of explosive weapons including unexploded bombs, explosive remnants and booby traps, and improvised mines. The second is the fact that urban areas and their outskirts are the worst affected. You find the widest range of explosive weapons in cities. We know from experience that it is particularly difficult to clear urban areas. In Raqqa, for example, where 80% of the city has been destroyed, the ground is littered with rubble mixed with explosive remnants and booby traps left behind by the belligerent parties. In Laos, they are still clearing weapons 45 years after the Vietnam War, so I think it will take at least two generations to clear Syria.
What are the obstacles to weapons clearance in Syria today?
The variety of explosive weapons used in the Syrian conflict makes clearance complex. Each type of explosive weapon works in a different way. You don’t neutralize an improvised mine in the same way as an unexploded bomb. We need to deploy different experts for different types of explosive weapons in the ground. But since there are all kinds of explosive weapons in Syria, we need many more professionals trained in these types of weapons.
Mine clearance in urban areas is particularly long and complicated. When buildings and infrastructure are destroyed in cities, the rubble is contaminated by explosive remnants. In some Syrian cities we can almost measure contamination in cubic meters because the ground is contaminated by layers of rubble and explosive remnants. This requires specific resources, professionals trained in this type of contamination, and great care to be taken when clearing and reconstructing cities.
When we talk about reconstruction, what exactly do we mean?
Reconstruction obviously begins with weapons clearance. The international community must take action to protect Syrian lives from explosive remnants. Some 11.5 million Syrians out of a total population of 17 million are currently at risk from these weapons. Weapons clearance is therefore a priority in reconstructing the country.
Then comes the actual reconstruction, which is divided into interdependent stages: the reconstruction of infrastructure and housing, economic recovery, but also restoring the link between the different communities damaged by a decade of conflict. It’s a huge challenge. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the early 2000s, apart from weapons clearance, it was important to get the communities talking to each other again in order to plan for long-term peace. Weapons clearance brought people together around a problem and shared risks, and provided a starting point for dialogue and collective initiatives. It marked the first step towards defusing the tension caused by the conflict.
We also have to think about how to support individuals. Syrians have experienced the horrors of war, and they need physical and psychological support. Physical trauma such as amputations, brain and spinal cord injuries, but also psychological trauma need specific care. I think it will take at least two generations to rebuild Syria.
Humanity & Inclusion and the Syria crisis
Since the organization began its response to the Syria crisis in 2012, Humanity & Inclusion has helped 1.8 million Syrians in six countries through emergency rehabilitation, psychological support, and supplying prosthetics and other assistive devices. As of December 2020, Humanity & Inclusion provided 14,000 prosthetics or orthotics to Syrians and conducted rehabilitation sessions with 180,000 people. Learn more about our work and the Syria crisis.
Header image: Destroyed buildings and other debris.
Inline image: Humanity & Inclusion's Emmanuel Sauvage speaks into a microphone held by a reporter at an event in France. Copyright: Basile Barbey/HI, 2020