Almost 100,000 square metres of land cleared
Since June, Handicap International and its local partner, AFRILAM (Afrique pour la lutte anti-mines) have cleared 92,000 square metres of land, equivalent to 15 football pitches, some 15 kilometres from Kisangani, in northeast DR Congo. More than 4,000 people will benefit directly from the operation, which has already neutralised six anti-personnel mines.
K. Batumike / Handicap International
Six PMA-2 type anti-personnel mines, two grenades and an array of small arms ammunition have been made safe near the villages of Bangboka and Batiabombe since last June. Hermetically sealed, the PMA-2 mine can be placed underwater or in the ground, and remains hazardous for decades: “We don’t really know the lifespan of this type of mine, but based on its technology, it can function for about 50 years,” explains Denis Ricca, Handicap International’s mine action coordinator in DR Congo. “Laid in DR Congo in the 90s, the PMA-2 mines are still dangerous.”
After a mine has been excavated, it is destroyed on site if it is too dangerous to defuse - when it is damaged, for example - or defused and stored by HI/AFRILAM in a secure place before the stockpile is destroyed together.
Part of an operation that is set to end in December, the team of 14 deminers works deep in the forest with metal detectors and probes. “Each deminer clears 8 to 13 sq.m. a day, which is pretty slow,” says Denis. “The density of the vegetation is the main problem. Much less problematic is the fact that the ground is contaminated with metal waste, which can confuse the detectors.”
By December, the team will have cleared 92,000 square metres of land, freeing up arable land for some 4,200 villagers to grow crops and raise livestock. The team will then be transferred to a new site by the Congolese authorities.
Anti-personnel mines were first laid in DR Congo in 1960, just after the country gained independence. Since 1996, they have been used by armed groups in a long succession of conflicts in the north and east of the country.
Mines and explosive remnants of war can pose a permanent threat to local people years after a conflict has ended. Since land, and even large swathes of territory, can no longer be used to grow crops or build roads and homes, etc. mines can be an obstacle to economic growth.
Handicap International has been present in DR Congo for 20 years. A major mine action operator, its most recent clearance operations date back to 2014. Alongside AFRILAM, its partner since 2008, it will be involved in new mine clearance operations until December 2017.
A member of the Ottawa Convention, DR Congo has given itself until January 2021 to become mine-free.