Mine Action Activities in Tajikistan are very much dependant on weather conditions. Due to the mountainous terrain in which the teams operate it is not possible for the teams to deploy until the beginning of May. This date is totally dependant on the snow melt and the subsequent rains that make roads impassable.
Taking weather conditions and donor funding cycles into consideration it is worth noting that although the FSD "started" in 2003 it has only been possible to operationally deploy the teams for 8 months up until the end of 2004.
Even in the micro climate experienced in Dushanbe it is difficult to conduct training during the spring. In April of this year the refresher training courses were delayed by five days due to heavy rains.
As well as the drawbacks with the weather the locations of the minefields also makes the clearance task even more taxing than normal.
The minefield at Shull in the Rasht Valley is typical of the problems faced by clearance teams. There have been 16 human mine accidents on the mountain and numerous other incidents involving animals. With the last incidents occurring in May of this year when two cows initiated two separate anti-personnel mines on the same day.
Shull Mountain stands at 2400 metres; it has no road access to allow personnel and equipment easy access to the work site. To walk from the bottom of the mountain to the demining lanes takes two hours and is extremely exhausting. To alleviate these difficulties the teams have established two tented camps one at the foot of the mountain where drivers and vehicles stay and then a second at 1700 metres where all demining staff are accommodated. To logistically support the team on the mountain it has been necessary to use donkeys to transport equipment to establish camp two and in addition the donkeys are used on a daily bases to re-supply the personnel with food and water.
In the unlikely event of an accident on a work site, casualty evacuation exercises are regularly practised. In normal conditions we have helicopter support for casualty evacuation provided by the Tajik Military; these helicopters are based in Dushanbe and with a flying time of one hour an fifteen minutes to the work sites in the Rasht Valley.
There are however times when the helicopters are unable to fly and a casualty would have to be evacuated off the mountain on a stretcher. In the case of the team at Shull this manual evacuation can take up to one and a half hours just to reach camp one where the casualty would be transferred to an Ambulance for the 10 minute journey to a local Hospital. At a later stage the casualty would have to be transported by road to Dushanbe by vehicle a journey of five or six hours.
These factors obviously have a considerable negative impact on productivity.
The FSD and French Military supervisors have taught refresher training courses for the two clearance teams and three Emergency Response Teams (ERT's) prior to deployment. The FSD medical coordinator has also completed a 6 week training course.
Two clearance teams have been deployed to their work sites at close to Garm in the Rasht valley and Vanj in Gorno Badakshen Autonomous Oblast. The teams at Garm were faced with the primary task of repairing minefield marking that has been damaged or removed during the winter period. They have since commenced their clearance activities, and are progressing well although their efforts have been hampered by frequent rain and snow storms. The Team in Vanj have started work on a new clearance task in response to the request from the Tajik Mine Action Cell.
Two other ERT's have been deployed on General Mine Action Assessments in the Direct Rule District and Khatlon Region. In addition they have been carrying out Explosive Ordnance Disposal tasks.
For further information, you may contact
FSD Programme Manager David Smyth in Dushanbe, david @ fsd.ch
FSD Director of Operations Ian Clarke in Geneva, ian @ fsd.ch