By Sharon Lukunka
Mr. Mohammad Hassan Mohammad is among several deminers working in Darfur as an international contractor with The Development Initiative (TDI), an organization that provides commercial explosive remnants of war (ERW) clearance and remote logistics solutions in inaccessible and often hostile locations. In Darfur, TDI collaborates closely with UNAMID’s Ordnance Disposal Office (ODO) to ensure a safe environment for the local populations by clearing ERW in the region.
Each day, Mr. Mohammad and his team work closely with UNAMID ODO and other national and international agencies in direct support of the Mission’s efforts to protect civilians, facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance and ensure freedom of movement, by reducing the risk of injury from unexploded ordnance (UXOs) in the region through survey, clearance and risk education activities.
Through the efforts of UNAMID’s ODO and its partners in Darfur, vast areas have been cleared of UXOs and other remnants of war. Since January 2014, UNAMID ODO has conducted general explosive hazard assessments in 217 villages across Darfur covering 425 square kilometers of terrain. During the course of their operations, the teams cleared 183 dangerous areas, conducted assessments along 1,953 kilometers of established routes and located and destroyed 3,117 items of unexploded ordnance.
While the clearing of some major routes has improved access, Mr. Mohammad expresses concern that unexploded bombs still hinder development in some parts of the region. He explains that one major challenge affecting their teams is recontamination of previously cleared areas. “The potential for recontamination is high in areas where there is ongoing fighting between different armed groups and inter-tribal fighting,” he says.
Another challenge affecting clearance teams in Darfur has been the security situation and lack of access to certain areas which are reported to be contaminated.
TDI, through partnership with local nongovernmental organization (NGO) SIBRO, has three teams deployed in El Fasher, North Darfur, El Geneina, West Darfur and Zalingei, Central Darfur. Mr. Mohammad explains that the teams receive reports from ODO regarding the presence of remnants of war in an area. “We assess the area and mark it for clearing and demolishing and also sensitize the community living there, including children who are advised to keep away and not play in the vicinity of affected areas,” he reveals.
As a result of the ongoing conflict in Darfur, UXOs and other ERW continue to pose a significant threat to the population. ERW encountered in Darfur include air delivered bombs, rockets, artillery and rifle projectiles, mortars, and grenades. Over 150 accidents have resulted in death or severe injury to 215 civilians and death of about 105 persons; children have been particularly affected.
Consequently, ODO is raising awareness on the dangers UXOs and other remnants of war among communities and displaced populations in Darfur. Half a million people have been reached through direct and more than one million through indirect methods.
An example of the kind of risk education programmes undertaken in Darfur is the one conducted by Nada Al Azar, a Sudanese NGO based in North Darfur.
Ms. Rehab Adam, originally from Tawila in North Darfur, explains that she joined the organization in 2014 as a volunteer to help communities understand the dangers of UXOs and other remnants of war. “Since some parents in rural areas have withdrawn their children from school, they lack basic knowledge about UXOs that they come across in the field,” she says, explaining that the organization specifically targets schools and rural areas as well as camps for displaced people through puppetry shows and workshops designed to build an understanding of the dangers of UXOs.
So far, risk education teams have conducted more than 2,000 sessions in schools across the five states of Darfur and have reached a total of 617,427 direct beneficiaries including women and children.
Despite challenges, ODO and its partners—other Mission components, the United Nations Children’s Fund, national nongovernmental organizations and relevant national stakeholders, such as the National Mine Action Centre and the Ministries of Education, Social Affairs, Health, Religion, Youth and Sports— continue to work ensure a safe environment for local population, peacekeepers and the humanitarian workers in the region. As a result of its activities, socioeconomic and development programmes have a far greater chance for successful implementation.
In acknowledgement of the dangers to sustainable peace and the threat to human life posed by mines and other remnants of war, April 4 is commemorated annually as International Day for Mine Awareness. This year’s theme, “More than Mines,” is a direct allusion to the risks faced by civilians, peacekeepers, development agencies and humanitarian actors in conflict-prone areas. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says, in his message on the occasion, ”When explosive hazards block the way, food is not delivered; refugees and internally displaced people cannot safely return home; children cannot go to school; development and peacebuilding efforts are hindered; peacekeeping operations cannot deploy safely.”