For the last few months APOPO has been providing capacity building and technical assistance to Campaña Colombiana Contra Minas (CCCM) – the Colombian campaign to ban landmines. Yesterday, the two CCCM non-technical survey teams that APOPO trained reached a first milestone – they were accredited by the Colombian Mine Action Authority and will begin operations at the end of the month.
Colombia's civil war, spanning more than five decades, has left the country riddled with landmines. Colombia has more landmine-related casualties than any country in the world, except for Afghanistan. They lurk beneath school grounds, roads, bean fields and cow pastures. The Colombian government states these explosive devices have killed or wounded more than 11,000 Colombians, 40% of whom are civilians.
Last year in November, the Colombian government signed a peace agreement with Colombia's largest rebel group, the FARC. And just yesterday members of Colombia's ELN (the second largest rebel group in Colombia) and government negotiators began talks seeking peace. In recent years, these two rebel groups planted most of the makeshift land mines in the countryside. The bitter irony of war is that the mines are hurting the very people the rebels have said they are fighting for: the rural poor.
Typical rebel landmines in Colombia are often made with plastic tubing or glass jars, and contain almost no metal – making them very hard to locate by a human deminer using a metal detector who can only cover up to 15 square meters of land per day.
APOPO has requested that the Colombian government consider an agreement to introduce its mine detection rats also known as HeroRATs. These 'landmine detectors' significantly speed up landmine clearance because they are trained to detect only the scent of explosives. This means they would be as quick and effective finding a landmine made out of metal as they would finding one that contains almost none. One HeroRAT can search up to 200 square meters in 20 minutes.
Currently the ball is in the court of the Colombian authorities, but if they approve, APOPO plans to integrate the HeroRATs in Colombia into CCCM's operations. This would make considerable cost savings, help to reduce tragic accidents and get people back on their land as quickly as possible.