Sudan: Recovering the land

from UN Mine Action Office in Sudan
Published on 25 Aug 2010 View Original
The often overlooked fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and Eastern Front rebels in Kassala State left behind a very tangible and dangerous legacy for the 3,000 residents of Abu Gamul village near the Eritrean border. Located about 30 kilometres east of the city of Kassala, Abu Gamul and the surrounding countryside were strewn with row upon row of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, making it impossible for the mainly agrarian and pastoralist community to cultivate crops and graze their livestock.

The eleven minefields identified by the United Nations Mine Action Office (UNMAO) and its implementing partners in and around Abu Gamul left its inhabitants with no choice but to relocate to the nearby village of Katakua in Kassala State. The minefields ranged in area from 3,075 square metres to 26,277 square metres, and the presence of craters excavated by detonated mines provided Abu Gamul villagers with potent reminders of their lethal force

"Despite the area having been perfect for economic activities like the grazing of animals and general agriculture ... people were afraid to venture out in the area as they saw some of the mines on the surface," said Osman Ahmed, the headmaster of the Katakua primary school. But their outlook brightened when the UNMAO implementing partner Ronco Consulting Corporation led an operation to comb the village and environs for mines and unexploded ordnance. By the end of last May, 260,000 square metres of land had been cleared of such explosive devices. "We get reliable, first-class information from soldiers and the locals," said the company's eastern states team manager Deon von Landsberg, who singled out the national Joint Integrated Demining Units for special praise. "That makes our job much easier." Some of those local residents are now ready to come home. "This used to be a school and now it's empty," said the Sheikh of Abu Gamul, Mohammed Idris, as he pointed to an abandoned building."We want to come back ... and now we have our land back."At one time, red and white stones marked paths no more than two meters wide to indicate the frontline between safety and danger, between people and the belts of explosives that lay hidden in the ground.By the start of June, over 11 million square meters of land in the eastern states of Sudan had been handed back to the local population, and at least 2,569 anti-personnel mines and 889 anti-tank mines were located and destroyed in the process.The existence of over 90 minefields in the country's eastern states has hindered mineral exploration projects, the construction of roads and housing for internally displaced persons, and the promotion of traditional economic livelihoods like bee-keeping and animal breeding.Funding issues complicate the demining work in eastern Sudan because the states of Kassala, Red Sea and Gedaref fall outside the UNMIS mandate area of operations.

"The main factor that makes the eastern states one of the most problematic areas for the mine action agencies to operate in is a lack of funding," said Armen Harutyunyan, the regional coordinator of UNMAO operations in northern Sudan. "Given the importance of rural development in stability and peace building under the political climate of 2010, mine action activities need support now more than ever," he added. Provided that sufficient funding can be secured, UNMAO plans to complete the clearance of all high- and medium-priority areas by the middle of next year in the country's three eastern states of Sudan, where an estimated three to four million people currently live.

Written by: Adina Dinca, UNMAO

Designed: Hala Marzoog, UNMAO

Article Published; In Sudan Magazine