Sudan: Keeping communities safe from the legacy of war

15 January, 2014
Hassan Hamad Adam and son Ali with members of the National Demining Unit. Nearly ten million square miles of land in East Sudan are hazardous because of mines and other unexploded ordnance. Credit: OCHA/Jennifer Paton
Hassan Hamad Adam and son Ali with members of the National Demining Unit. Nearly ten million square miles of land in East Sudan are hazardous because of mines and other unexploded ordnance. Credit: OCHA/Jennifer Paton

Nearly ten million square miles of land in East Sudan are hazardous because of the presence or suspected presence of mines and other unexploded ordnance. Progress on mine clearance is slow, but NGOs are educating communities to live and work safely, even around mine fields.

In Togan, eastern Sudan, Hassan Hamad Adam risks his life herding camels and goats in fields that are marked with signs warning about the possible presence of landmines. He even picks out these fields deliberately, seeing economic opportunity in them.

“I come here because nobody else does,” he says. “The land is good for grazing and there is plenty of wood, which I can sell.”

Economic opportunity

Both Hassan and his son, Ali are mine survivors. They have both lost their fingers in mine accidents as well as animals from the herd of goats they graze in the area. Like Hassan, many men in eastern Sudan, one of the poorest areas in the country, risk their lives herding in mine fields to provide for their families.

“It’s still worth working here,” adds Hassan. “I know most of the safe routes for myself. When I find mines or weapons, I can report them to NGOs so they have the information and can respond.”

Violent conflict in East Sudan ended in 2006.  But nearly seven years later, communities are still affected by mines and unexploded ordinance that were laid along roads, in villages, close to water wells – and most damaging, in arable land and animal grazing areas.

Sudan has one of the largest mine problems in East Africa. So far in 2013, 26 people have been injured in accidents involving mines or unexploded ordnance, down from 225 people in 2011 and 2012. Children make up 25 per cent of those injured. After the departure of mine clearance teams, villagers sometimes mistakenly assume that mines are no longer a threat. Mine risk education programs that help experts and local communities to communicate are crucial to keeping people safe.

Two-way communication

Local NGOs, like Jasmar and the Friends of Development Organization, have an important role here. Both organizations are supported in part by the Sudan Common Humanitarian Fund, which is managed by OCHA.

Jasmar’s Mine Risk Education team works to inform communities on mine safety: creating and sharing maps of no-go areas; educating children and women on how to spot mines; and advising who to contact with information.

“My daily work is very meaningful,” says Eltoma Mohamed Habila, one of Jasmar’s team. “Mine Risk Education is about raising awareness – but also learning from the community. We can share technical knowledge of what certain mines and unexploded weapons look like and provide maps of areas that should be avoided. But community members can tell us about unsafe areas in turn.”

With careful work, Mine Action partners are making progress in Eastern Sudan. Since 2011, 385 mine fields, constituting 42.6 million square miles of land, have been released back to communities, meaning they no longer have active hazards and can be used for development of businesses, schools, medical facilities, agriculture, grazing, and homes.