Intensive UN-led efforts are ongoing in newly independent South Sudan to remove landmines. As a result lives are being saved and the huge costs of transportation are going down.
Before 2004 it would take three to four days to travel to Juba from the border towns of Nimule and Kapoeta. Cycling was the safest means of transport. The entire area of what is now South Sudan was a war zone, and was covered with an unknown number of landmines.
Even now that South Sudan is independent, landmines continue to hinder movement, dissuade investors and frighten returning refugees. All 10 states of South Sudan report mine-related injuries and deaths. As of mid-2011, according to the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre (UNMACC), there were a total of 1,243 injuries and 3,158 deaths from landmines.
“UNMACC works with several UN agencies to reduce the threat and impact of landmines and explosive remnants of war throughout South Sudan,” says Sarah Holland, a programme officer with the centre. Besides collaborating with various UN agencies and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the centre works with international and national non-governmental organizations, three commercial contractors and the South Sudan government. As of September 2011, Ms. Holland reports, a total of 4,273 anti-tank mines and 25,487 anti-personnel mines had been destroyed.
In February 2004, the first of the private contractors came into southern Sudan, Mechem, a subsidiary of Denel, the state-run South African arms company. It began mine survey operations near the border with Kenya in anticipation of a peace agreement (which was concluded the following year). Mechem was contracted by the UN Office of Project Services to begin demining work and take advantage of the ceasefire. Around the same time the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) contracted the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) to do the same. The two UN agencies were convinced that demining was the only way to cut the costs of transporting aid into southern Sudan from their bases in Lokichoggio, Kenya.
Jaco Crots, Mechem’s manager in South Sudan, has vivid recollections of when they came in from Lokichoggio. “Owing to the dangers posed by mines, very few vehicles dared to use the road to Juba, as the entire road network into Juba had been planted with mines. No meaningful development could take place here without serious demining,” he recalls.