Weapons clearance under extreme conditions
HI has been conducting weapons clearance operations near Faya-Largeau, the capital of Borku province in northern Chad, since November 2018. Some fifty weapons clearance experts work in the area. HI Communications Officer Gilles Lordet joined the teams for a typical morning of demining.
4:30 AM: The team sets off before sunrise. We drive to a site in Wadagar, about ten miles from Faya-Largeau. The deminers start early to take advantage of the fresh morning air.
5:00 AM: We arrive in Wadagar, a fifteen-minute drive out of town. We are now in the middle of the desert. The base is located along a track. The fifteen weapons clearance experts working on the site this morning gather round Pitchou Lusamba, the operations supervisor, who explains what they are going to do today: "We're going to start with the weapons clearance platform. The weapons clearance experts will only be brought in if necessary.”
5:30 AM: The weapons clearance platform is a SAG200, made especially for HI and its operations in Chad. It is a kind of large combine harvester with rotating front arms that detonate all explosive devices in its path. It is transported to the site by lorry from its garage in the centre of Faya-Largeau. After unloading and some adjustments, it goes into action. Charles Coly, a weapons clearance expert, who has been trained to use the platform, remotely controls it at a safe distance: "For safety reasons, I always need to be more than 150 metres from the machine when it is on contaminated land. The front arms rotate at nearly 3,000 rpm. They dig 20 centimetres into the ground and destroy all explosive devices in their path. Normally, the mines are automatically torn to pieces; they don't even have time to explode. But sometimes they do. A few weeks ago, a rocket exploded as the machine passed over it. The machine was unharmed: it is designed to withstand an explosion."
6:30 AM: The weather and lack of wind have reduced visibility and made it hard to use the platform correctly. Supervisor Pitchou decides to stop it and sends out the manual weapons clearance experts instead.
7:00 AM: Six weapons clearance experts equip themselves with demining aprons, helmets and metal detectors. They walk along the 200-metre access corridor to the clearance site. They work in teams of two. The first demines and the second watches from a safe distance, ready to help if there’s a problem.
7:30 AM: Manual work is long and meticulous. The weapons clearance experts work along a metre-wide corridor. They pass the metal detector over the ground and advance in 40cm steps. A ruler on the ground marks each step forward. "It doesn't look like it, but it's an exhausting job. It's 40 degrees, we're in full sunlight wearing all the equipment. Deminers need regular breaks. They must be fully focused on the job. Their movements need to be precise and they must follow the mine clearance instructions at all times," says Pitchou.
8:00 AM: The temperature reaches 40 degrees. The weapons clearance experts work in 45-minute shifts. At ten o’clock, they take a break for something to drink and eat. They work like this until noon, when the teams return to base. In the meantime, the machine is taken back to the garage where it is given routine checks.
These mine clearance operations restore the use of tracks and land to local people, who can grow crops and rear livestock again. This opens up the Faya-Largeau region, which has been slow to develop due largely to explosive remnants of war