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"Mines are still putting a brake on development": On the road with a team of landmine surveyors in Chad pt.2

Explosive weapons
Cambodia

In the second of a two-part travelogue, Denis Ricca, who is leading a team of explosive remnants of war surveyors describes his team’s work with local communities in Moyen-Charir, a region of southern Chad. The work of the surveyors is an important first step before full demining activities begin.

An ERW on the ground in Moyen-Charir. Chad.

An ERW on the ground in Moyen-Charir. Chad. | © Handicap International

Part 2

Day 1: We launch our surveys in Korbol, a difficult region. The people are traditionally reserved, especially since an attempted coup d’état in 2008. The fighting has left scars. We identify an area contaminated by a former munitions depot dating from the 1970’s and some traces of recent fighting. We spend six days on the site. More than 500 people attend our mine/ERW risk education sessions.

Day 7: We travel to Karma and set up our operations. More than 190 people attend our risk education sessions, a very good number for a village with only 500 inhabitants. Unfortunately, it’s hard to conduct the survey. There’s an abandoned airstrip mined in 1982 during the civil war and there was an ERW accident in 2011, 20km from the village. But there’s a lot of contradictory information and no reliable data on contamination by more recent fighting. We leave the region pretty much empty-handed.

Day 11: After driving for two days, we arrive at our new base in Kyabé, in the east of the Moyen-Charir. We’re looking for contamination in the eastern and northern extremes of the region, and on sites in Marabé, a district composed of four villages.

Day 13: We spend long days on the road getting to the borders of Salamat and Guéra. Good news. Contrary to our expectations, there are no mines or ERW in the sub-prefectures close to Lake Iro and Salamat.

Day 16: We launch our surveys in Marabé, inviting villagers and the authorities to risk education sessions. We use a large panel and leaflets to show what munitions look like and explain the safety guidelines. We raise the awareness of about 340 people in three days. We identify eight danger zones, a daily threat to the lives of local people. We gather information about fourteen victims, twelve of whom have died since the early 1980’s.

Day 17: Many areas were contaminated by the conflict in the 1980’s. The village elders told us how, in June 1982, one of the parties to the civil war retreated eastwards, towards Sudan. It was the rainy season and the lorries got bogged down. They abandoned a lorry and its load of munitions, which lay scattered along the road. The area was heavily contaminated with mines, artillery and mortar shells, and rockets. Some of the surviving victims have the sort of amputations you might expect to see after a mine accident; below the knee, with shrapnel injuries to the second leg.

During a road-building project, they came across some munitions. This caused a major headache for the authorities and they spent several months clearing the area in 2014. But they didn’t touch the villages, which are expanding rapidly and spreading towards the most contaminated areas. A couple of words about the soil in this region and why it leads to the “sinking” of mines: during the rainy season, water pools in certain areas, creating deep layers of mud. The munitions sink deeper and deeper, year after year. Some munitions disappear into the ground.

Day 21: We talk with the authorities in the villages of Marabé II and Marabé Dekouya where they’ve had to suspend plans to create 38 hectares of rice fields because of contamination by mines and ERW. There was an explosion in 2014 while they were clearing the undergrowth. That brought everything to a halt. Thirty-three years after the end of the conflict, the mines are still putting a brake on development. Mines killed nine people in this area in the 1980’s.

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