Tuesday, MDD and manual clearance with NPA
Emma made a friend today — a friend with four legs and a tail and a nose for explosives. Betty Spaghetti is a Belgian Malnois trained to work with Norwegian People’s Aid in South Sudan. Betty is one of 12 mine-detecting dogs awaiting accreditation at the NPA compound in Yei. Once she and her handler pass inspection to international standards, she will join up with clearance teams around the country to sniff out landmines and other explosives.
For now, Betty is leading Emma around a training field. Betty moves in 10cm swaths of the mock minefield, advancing methodically toward a threat. She gets visibly excited when she nears one. Betty sniffs, moves closer, and then stops. Stops and stares. And that’s all she does. For minutes on end. She can wait for as long as necessary for her handler to mark the danger and move Betty to safety.
While Betty spends finishes her morning exercises, we travel 10 minutes down the road to a NPA manual clearance site. Two things immediately stand out about the operation: this is an all-female demining team and we are really, really close to a community. Wuluturu is a growing part of Yei and was the site of a mine fatality in 2007. A local woman was collecting food near a stream when her farming tool struck an antitank mine. Since then, more mines were reported and removed.
Despite the threat, the community has grown up to and into the dangerous area. The deminers work around and sometimes into homes. The weather is partly cloudy with a light breeze, which makes putting on our personal protective equipment (PPE) a little easier. The female deminers take a break as we enter the area. We move carefully between white (cleared) stakes, keeping an eye on the red (uncleared) markers. Clothes lines and rubbish likes obstruct portions of the dangerous area, and passing traffic further complicates activities.
The deminer and her supervisor work methodically, passing a metal detector over a patch of ground. Every metallic signal must be investigated — with a thriving village, small pieces of metal are everywhere. The deminer marks a positive signal and begins to investigate, pouring cups of water onto the hard ground. She waits for the ground to saturate so she can probe the area. The dangerous area covered 81,000 square meters when NPA began working here in 2011. NPA has been using a variety of demining resources, including mine-detecting dogs and the all-female demining team, since 2004.
The heat is getting to us under all the PPE, so we leave the area and head back to the NPA compound. More than 70 square kilometers of land are still considered dangerous (for reference, one square kilometer is roughly three city blocks in New York City). We never find out if the deminer had located an actual landmine or just metallic clutter. With the extent of contamination, I don’t know what would be better: finding one or not.
Editor: Geary has safely returned to JMU after a long travel itinerary. We will continue to upload his posts and photos in the order he submitted them. Keep reading for more on NPA and the demining efforts in South Sudan.