I’ve found 300 mines since I started my job
Jason Mudingay Lufuluabo is head of HI's mine clearance operations in Chad. He tells us about his work and how he became a mine clearance expert.
Jason Mudingay Lufuluabo, head of HI's mine clearance operations in Chad. | © Gilles Lordet / HI
I manage a team of 73 people who clear mines in the provinces of Borku and Ennedi, in northern Chad. I supervise "non-technical surveys" - the survey and information gathering phase to determine if an area is contaminated and requires the intervention of mine clearance experts - and "technical surveys", the mine clearance operations themselves.
My priority is to make sure teams comply with our operating procedures. I also coordinate the checks done after each operation is completed by a mine clearance team. We do these checks before the cleared land is restored to local people.
Mine clearance expert for almost 20 years
I have been a mine clearance expert since 2002. I had just finished my studies. HI was launching mine clearance operations in Kisangani, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and was looking to recruit and train future mine clearance experts. I applied and they offered me the job. I was really interested in the work from the word go - I felt like I was on a mission. In the early 2000s, there were regular mine accidents in the Kisangani region, where I’m from. If we didn't clear our country of mines, who would?
300 mines in 20 years
I worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo until 2011. Then I began working abroad. I’ve been in charge of HI's demining operations in Chad for a year now, where I’ve worked in the past.
I have found about 300 mines during my time as a mine clearance expert, mostly here in Chad. A lot of them were in a poor state. As we couldn’t move or defuse them, we had to destroy them on site.
Strict application of the rules
Mine clearance experts must abide by safety rules. Here is an example of why the operating procedures so important. In 2016, I was working with a team in northern Chad, and we were finding anti-tank mines every day. The procedures are designed to protect teams from booby-trapped mines. After a few weeks, we had secured 50 mines. None of the mines were booby trapped. But the 51st was! It was a good reminder of why it is important to follow the rules.
Tough conditions in Chad
The biggest challenge in Chad is the weather, especially the sandstorms and the heat, which can reach 50 degrees. The conditions are very harsh for mine clearance experts because we have to wear heavy safety gear. Sandstorms reduce visibility to almost zero and make it impossible to hear the metal detector. It’s dangerous and we delay our operations if there’s a strong wind.
How to secure an anti-tank mine
Last March and April, HI destroyed five anti-tank mines. Jason Mudingay Lufuluabo, head of HI's mine clearance operations in Chad, secured the first one.
- It was ten in the morning. I got a call on my mobile phone from the head of a mine clearance team, who said they’d just found an anti-tank mine. I told them not to touch anything. I went to where they found the mine to decide what action to take.
- The mine was in a good condition. The terrain was flat. I evacuated the area and decided to use a method called "remote traction", in which you dislodge a mine from its position on a 200-metre long cable. We do this in case the mine is booby trapped, which happens quite a lot. We do it manually with a cable and a grab attached to the mine strap. Then we drag it for four to five metres.
- I attached the mine and unwound the cable, reporting each step of the operation on a walkie-talkie to the team back in the safety zone, so they could check I was following the procedures. In the end, I pulled the mine five meters. It wasn't booby-trapped, otherwise it would have exploded.
- I went back to the mine and defused it by removing the detonator and put the mine case in a sandbox to make sure it did not move during transport. We destroyed the detonator on site. The anti-tank mine was destroyed later with other munitions.
- During an operation like that, you have to keep your cool, stay focused, remember the procedure and use the right tools.