Sudan: The circle of demining

from UN Mine Action Office in Sudan
Published on 24 Feb 2010 View Original
Blue Nile State is widely seen as an important transitional state and one of the states most affected by the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs). According to the Return, Reintegration and Recovery Office of the United Nation Mission in Sudan, the UNHCR has assisted the return of over 20,000 refugees to the southern states and Blue Nile in the first half of 2009 alone. But their return is important not only from a political point of view; it is the base of peace and stability building in the area. Apart from concerns for issues such as unemployment, livelihood and educational opportunities the returnees have to worry about the existence of minefields and unexploded ordnance as well. UNMAO exists to alleviate this concern to the best of its abilities and to the limit of its donor funding. A recent visit in the area of Kurmuk illustrates the basics of humanitarian demining. After a drought, land is scarce and resources are highly disputed. A green field lays barren and causes a strange unsettling feeling. In a state with over 96,000 IDPs areas like this one are much sought-over. The only explanation for its lack of use is the fact that the local community knows the terrain is dangerous and there are mines scattered on it. The United Nation Mine Action Office (UNMAO) has the area marked as hazardous in its Information Management System for Mine Action.

In collaboration with the National Mine Action Centre, they task the clearance to one of their implementing partners. After the technical survey has identified and properly described the minefield to be cleared, the implementing partner deploys to the field. Red and whit stones demarcate mined areas after which the clearance operations begin. The local population is informed through Mine Risk Education teams. They conduct training sessions and liaise with the local community to inform them of the undergoing clearance operations.

Clearance operations may be lengthy and in many instances the locals want to use the land as soon as it is cleared. In the case of Kurmuk, our example, a safety path crosses the minefield and is already in use by the locals in their daily activities. Land and access have an exigency attached to them that one only perceives during visits to such fields. Upon the release of the land to the local population, the land is barren again, but not for long; the return and reconstruction begins shortly after. In our field in Kurmuk, the construction of houses boomed as soon as the land was released. The GPS markings on the trees tell the story of former mines contamination which are now but a memory. A direct road is being constructed to link Damazin to Kurmuk and the trade that accompanies infrastructure development is anticipated and welcomed in the area. Population displaced in Keli has returned to Kurmuk and began to construct on the land released in hopes of a better life. Five years into the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the Sudan is slowly moving away from Emergency response to recovery and development. UNMAO, in collaboration with the National Mine Action Authorities, joins this development trend and is happy to accept its humble role to peace building and sustainability. More than ever, in light of the political processes and decisions that the Sudan is about to face, the funding gaps faced by the programme negatively affect more than just demining operations; they jeopardize rebuilding efforts and the ability of local communities to use precious land and resources.