UMCOR's Advance Story of the Month for May 2001 is about Landmine Removal in Mozambique (UMCOR Advance #982575).
The United Methodist Juletene Mission Station (left) in the De Zavala district of Mozambique has been closed for years due to landmines. Secondary school children must walk 8 kilometers each day to attend school. There is other property nearer and available for a school, but it is all mined. The government of Mozambique has scheduled the property for demining this year. Jacky D'Almeida, the director of the UMCOR supported Accelerated Demining Program (ADP) asked, "If we get this property demined, will the United Methodists come back and provide a secondary school for this village?"
Another village insisted that their planting fields were mined. After several months of surveying, ADP found nothing. Still, the elders would not let the citizens use the fields for fear of mines. Then the former soldier who had lain the mine field was found. He was brought to the site and told this story: he had arrived at the village with several wooden ammunition boxes. He demanded that the villagers help him carry the boxes to the small farming plots scattered through the forest. He then sent them back to their village to wait until he summoned them again to help him reload his equipment onto his truck. When he was alone, he opened the boxes and flung the contents-- stones-- at random into the fields. Believing that he had sown their land with mines, the villagers feared they would be killed if they ever re-entered their fields.
Landmines maim and kill, and they do much more-- they disrupt entire communities. Children cannot attend school because the school yards and buildings are mined. People cannot grow food because the fields are mined. Entire communities have been dislocated because they can no longer work and feed themselves-- all because of landmines.
UMCOR is committed to clearing landmines so that people can resume their daily activities, reclaiming their land, property and lives from these insidious weapons. And to answer Mr. D'Almeida's question-- yes, if the land is cleared, the General Board of Global Ministries will work with The United Methodist Church in Mozambique to re-establish a secondary school on the Juletene Mission property. The children will once again have a school in their own village.
UMCOR, the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, and the United Methodist Church in Mozambique are supporting the landmine clearance work of ADP in Mozambique. ADP's Integration Unit carries out a three-part approach to demining.
1) An "Agri-flail" machine-- a modified agricultural tractor frame with a flail consisting of a rotating drum with lengths of chain attached-- removes the vegetation from the piece of land that is being cleared. The flail penetrates the surface by two centimeters and absorbs the explosions of mines planted to that depth. The operator is inside an armored cab and further protected by being behind and higher than the flail unit.
2) After the land has been cleared by the machine, it is subdivided into ten-meter blocks. Mine Detection Dogs (MDD) are then used to locate the remaining mines. Each block is scanned by two dogs. The dog is trained to smell the outgassing of a mine's explosive and will point to it without stepping on it.
Dogs are more effective and less time consuming than metal detectors because they only detect mines, not every piece of metal. Also, dogs can detect mines up to 20 cm in depth, whereas the limit of metal detectors is 15 cm. ADP uses dogs that are trained at a center in Texas. The cost of a trained dog is $25,000. The care of the dogs is exceptional. All ADP staff, human and canine, are supported by paramedics. Veterinary paramedics are always present when the dogs are working. So far, no dogs have been lost to land mines, but they are susceptible to cuts and abrasions as well as a host of infections and parasites. These are treated immediately and the dogs are kept healthy.
3) Once the dogs have located the mines, human deminers detonate them. ADP has lost only one worker to a mine accident in its six years of operation. A few deminers have lost limbs. When a deminer is injured, ADP provides the medical care and prostheses. The workers are retrained and placed in communications or office jobs within the company. ADP operates the training facility for all three demining companies working in Mozambique.
When ADP is clearing land, they conduct mine awareness classes in nearby schools and villages to supplement the government's mine awareness programs. The deminers themselves provide the instruction. Because of the overwhelming spread of HIV/AIDS in Mozambique, ADP has incorporated HIV/AIDS awareness into their mine awareness training. They reason that lives saved from mines, but lost to HIV/AIDS are an insult to their efforts. While ADP has lost only one worker to a mine accident, they have lost ten to HIV/AIDS. HIV prevention education is also integrated into the ADP training program for all staff.
In speaking of this program, Mr. D'Almeida (above left) says, "Mines are not the objective, people's lives are the objectives. Mines are the obstacles and we make it our business to overcome them. People are our reason for humanitarian demining." Mr. D'Almeida proudly shows visitors sections that were recently cleared of mines. As soon as it is safe to return to a former community site, people come back, rebuild houses and businesses, reopen farms and schools and resume their lives.
Funds given to "Landmine Removal," UMCOR Advance #982575 will be used to provide Mine Detection Dog (MDD) teams, fund the operation of the Mine Tech Agri-flail machine, and provide general support for ADP's demining activities in Mozambique with possible future extensions into Angola.
UMCOR encourages you to give through your local United Methodist Church. Gifts may also be sent to: UMCOR, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. To make a credit card donation, call (800) 554-8583.
The photographs were taken in Mozambique 2001 by Paul Dirdak, Deputy General Secretary of UMCOR, General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church.