South Sudan

#UKAidWorks: Preventing death at the doorstep in South Sudan

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In the world's newest country, South Sudan, the scars of decades of conflict are still raw.

In the small village of Amika, Betty Kasara lives with the scars more than most.

A biological mother to three children, Betty is also a foster carer to a further 11 who lost their parents to the bitter civil war.

Betty, like many women, is playing a crucial role in rebuilding and healing a nation ravaged by five decades of conflict that has claimed the lives of more than two million people.

Women in South Sudan are the sole breadwinners in half of all households, supporting their own families and their communities.

But their ability to rebuild is hamstrung by the deadly legacy of conflict; unexploded bombs litter communities across the country.

The weapons of war lay buried, dormant, but ready to strike at any moment.

Thanks to vital support from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the UK government, MAG teams in South Sudan are working to find these explosive remnants of war before a child does.

In Amika village, MAG teams found that Betty and the 14 children for whom she cares were in immediate danger and had been for years. Buried by Betty's front door was a vicious cluster bomblet, a deadly and indiscriminate weapon banned by 130 countries over a decade ago.

“I was so scared for the children,” Betty told us. “I couldn’t let them play and knew there were bombs in the ground but didn’t expect one here, next to our door.”

It was the 14th unexploded bomb MAG teams had found in and around the village houses. The bombs are too sensitive to be moved and have to be destroyed where they are found.

When MAG teams found the bomb on Betty's doorstep, protective sandbags were prepared and everybody - along with their ducks, puppies and goats - were evacuated.

To set up a safety cordon, radio-equipped deminers are sent out and the road blocked.

MAG team leader, Richard Malish, placed an explosive charge next to the unexploded bombs. When the detonator is attached, Robert and his team retreat to a safe distance, check the safety cordon is secure, and electronically fire the demolition.

Thankfully, it was a MAG team that found the bomb before one of Betty's children did. Before MAG arrived in Amika, the village had suffered accidents - and near misses.

“One of the bombs exploded next to my house before when a fire I lit under a brewing barrel exploded – luckily no one was next to it. I am so happy you are here and you have cleared the bombs," Betty explains.

But it could have been such a different story. Betty is a reminder that every landmine and unexploded bomb our teams find is another life saved. And this work can only take place with the support of DFID and the UK government.

In 2019, UK Aid funding has meant MAG and its partners HALO and NPA were able to make safe more than 27 million square metres of land, finding and destroying almost 17,000 unexploded bombs and more than 6,700 landmines, helping more than 389,000 people across six countries.