Sunday, March 12, 2006

Clearing landmines for nuts, bananas and 30000 dollar in parking fee, part 2


Landmine clearing on the political scene
Sara Sekkenes is program manager for the Norwegian People’s Aid de-mining project in Mozambique. I met her at her small office on the fourth floor of a building placed on Mao Tse Tsung Avenue. Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) is one of the biggest and most well regarded non-governmental development organizations in the world. One of their international efforts is de-mining.

They have been working in Mozambique since 1994, shortly after the civil war ended. Sara came to Mozambique two years ago. She is a tall, well built woman and her dark hair does not gives one the clue of her Norwegian citizenship. Her job in Mozambique is to finalize the presence of the NPA as an operational de-mining organization in Mozambique.

Sara Sekkenes (NPA), John Rodsted (photographer), Anne Capelle (ICBL), Stipe Mesic-Croatia President

"Four years ago you had 270 accidents, three years ago only 180 and last year only thirteen accidents. Thirty people had been affected by these accidents, three of these got killed. Compared with the innumerable people whom are killed in the traffic or by HIV/AIDS every year in Mozambique, the mines are no longer a big danger,"
says Sara. Today the problem with landmines could be handled at a national level, but not without economical contributions from abroad.

The work of surveying, in other words finding and securing, the minefields is done. But still you have to find each and every mine in the fields and destroy them. The problem is that when the international organizations pull out it creates what is called a “donor-fatigue”, the donors pull out together with the organizations which traditionally receive the economical donations.


In 1997 several countries signed the Mine Ban Treaty among those countries was Mozambique and also Norway, one of the main economical contributors to NPA and de-mining. This treaty states that countries like Mozambique should be mine free in 2009. "This means that Norway, as one of the most important contributors should , where they have started to work, continue the effort until the goal has been reached, at least until 2009," says Sara. That would in best case be a mine free Mozambique.

Berit Tvete at the Norwegian embassy, placed in Avenue Julius Nyerere, about 500 meters from the NPA office, says that Norway has not yet decided if their economical contribution to de-mining in Mozambique will be withdrawn, but at the same time she says: "There has been a huge effort in de-mining Mozambique the last 12-13 years, and even though the country is far from mine free the number of mine related accidents are minimal. Mine clearance is very expensive and many argue that the economical contribution used in this effort, may serve better in other areas." And one may ask: Why should a peaceful country give money for de-mining in a country like Mozambique? Norway has never placed the mines in the ground in the first place and the civil-war in Mozambique has never been fought by Norwegian forces.


For Sara Sekkenes this is not a difficult question. First of all Norway has signed the mine ban treaty and as such they should keep up their work according to this treaty. Another aspect is how the mines in the ground in Mozambique have been produced. "Many countries with a mine problem today argue that mine producing countries should take a larger financial responsibility for the de-mining work." she says. Countries like USA, Russia, Germany etc. have for a long time produced and earned money on mines. Even countries like Norway have had investments in weapon production companies. As such the problem with landmines is not only a problem for the conscience for the people who put the landmines into the ground, but it’s an issue which should cause a discomfort in consciousness globally.

Sara began working with landmines shortly after finishing her studies in nature geography and development studies. "I had decided that I wanted to work with humanitarian development issues," she explaines, and since she also wanted to work in Angola she sent an application to NPA. They had a job for her as a landmine surveyor in the field. "Landmine survey is the job done before you pinpoint the location of and destroy the actual landmine." explains Sara. She traveled for two years around in Angola doing such surveys.

Landmine surveying
There are several methods used to survey landmines. One important job is to talk to former soldiers and local people to get information on where the landmines may have been placed during a conflict. Sometimes the whereabouts of a minefield unfortunately is discovered by accident, with horrible consequences for the finder. When one has information on the whereabouts of a minefield it’s necessary to use technical survey to both estimate the concentration of the mines and to make the field workable for the rats, dogs and manual mine clearers.


In the technical survey the old paramilitary police force car named "Casspir" have proved itself particularly useful because of its triangular shape in the bottom. The car is specifically designed to take a blast from bombs or mines placed underneath it. These vehicles were originally used by the South African police force and they were a natural part of the landscape in the South African townships during the uprisings among the black population against the apartheid regime. For many years and still today the view of such vehicles have spread terror amongst people, today they may do something good in the work to clear landmines.

Even the best de-mining vehicles may only achieve a clearing rate of 70 % and even though the people inside the vehicle would survive the blast, as they are protected, the vehicle would still need expensive maintenance. Technical mine clearing may often seem easy and effective in a western world clean testing area. But in an African field with the heat, dust, slopes and ditches and with insects and other animals eager to explore the electronical devices, the more traditional method with actual people and a metal detector has often proved more effective. And to make an area 100% mine free, they are absolutely needed. In Mozambique the surveillance work is finished, the existing minefields have been located and marked off, but the job to pinpoint the location off each mine is still left to do.


The lost paradise
Vilanculos was once the big vacation paradise in Mozambique. When the stars from Hollywood on vacation in their swim suits were pictured in the glossy magazines, the surroundings were often the ones from Vilanculos. The tropical environment is astonishing, with kilometers of white beach, and the palm trees will support you with all the coconut milk you have ever wanted. A 15 minute boat ride will take you out to the magnificent islands where the blue ocean surrounds you wherever you look and the diving opportunities are some of the best in the world. Today the tourists mainly consist of adventurous backpackers, who leave little of their sparsely saved money, and the rich tourists who are flown, in helicopters, directly from Vilanculos international airport out to the magnificent luxurious resorts placed on the islands. All the money they leave goes directly into the pockets of the resort owners. The local community doesn’t even get the chance to meet them.


"Vilanculos has an astonishing potential as a tourist town. But they need space to develop this potential. The job to de-mine the areas around Vilanculos and to create this space has now become a priority." explains Cerveja Mabui. He is a man in his forties, he has short black hair and a round well nourished face with a thin moustache. He’s a small man with a strong body and his white teeth shine when he grins. He probably got his good humor from his parents who must have had fun when they came up with his name. The fact that "cerveja" means "beer" in Portuguese created some confusion when he introduced himself to me. To great amusement for the rest of the crew I thought he wanted me to take him to a pub and buy him a beer.


The locals in the front
We are in the APOPO camp a bit outside of Vilanculos village. The camp consists of five green tents for sleeping and two bigger tents for cooking and washing. The sleeping tents are big with space for two or more persons in each, but they may become uncomfortably hot when the sun is up. The air-conditioning systems one may find at the luxurious resorts out on the islands are not an option out here. The tents are all placed in a semicircle with a small wooden hut with straw roof in the middle. Inside of the hut the air is cooler and seven rats are sleeping in their own private cage. Their peculiar way to sleep, on their back, with their legs poking up, makes them look like they are dead. Only the breathing movements of their chest reveal that they are alive.


We have left the rats to their beauty sleep and are seated outside around a white plastic table. Lunch has just been eaten. Luckily it was not exploded rat, but fried fish head with rice. The lunch was quite good even though the surprise of eating something who stares back at you was new for my Norwegian stomach. Cerveja have joined us after lunch. He is not from APOPO, but from the organization ADP, Accelerated Demining Program. ADP is a Mozambiquan non-governmental organization working with de-mining together with the international organizations located in Mozambique. In Vilanculos they work together with APOPO. In Chimoio further north they also work together with crews from NPA. The ADP was one of the first non-governmental organizations in Mozambique after the war. They are supported by their government which had seen the threat and the problems with the mines at an early stage. But their main economical donations come from abroad.

Mozambique was one of the first countries that signed the treaty to ban landmines which was written in 1997. And it was also the second country to host the annual “monitoring” meeting. On this meeting the future development of the treaty was discussed. As such Mozambique was one of the few countries in the world where the landmine problem early was taken into consideration, and this is also the reason why you today may see an end to the problem, a landmine free Mozambique.


Cerveja is today leader of 5th platoon of ADP, but he could still remember the civil war. At that time he had been working in the office of the Frelimo Air Force Unit in Maputo. After the war he had joined the ADP in –94, and today he makes an effort, together with people who during the war had been his enemies, to clear the fields outside of Vilanculos. He has traveled to the APOPO camp today to chat with the guys, but also to check out the Norwegian journalist. Is he sane enough to be let out in a real minefield? Clearly I must have passed the test because he says I’m welcome to join them the next day.





At 3/13/2006 03:20:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

why the links to pictures we can't see? Would be better without the links and possibly links to the homepages. And - for the pics you haven't taken yourself maybe put up some credits and say what they are about. (did you take that first picture where Sara appears together with John R and Anne Capelle?)

how about giving people some context for putting out these documents? 

Posted by kjell


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home