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Posts tagged "cisr in sudan 2012"

Wednesday, NPA battle area clearance and UXO demo

We’re up and into the Land Cruisers early, bouncing along the rutted roads on our way back to Juba. Our itinerary includes stops at three sites run by Norwegian People’s Aid.  Terje, NPA’s Program Manager, shared an interesting fact. And by interesting, I mean disconcerting to the point of frightening: the Juba-Yei road was once the most mined road in the world and the bridge we just crossed has three antitank mines buried underneath it. Eventually, the mines will need to be removed when the road is improved; for now, the mines don’t pose much of a threat.

Still, I’m glad when we leave the Juba-Yei road, heading farther afield to visit a battle area clearance (BAC) site in Katigri. The community was contaminated by PM-1 cluster munitions dropped by the Sudanese Armed Forces. The village never experienced ground warfare, given its remoteness, so the contamination is vexing  More than 53,000 square meters were impacted — dropped during the rainy season, most of the cluster munitions were lodged deep in the soil. The BAC team sweeps the area with metal detectors, marking each metallic signal for follow up. Dozens of signal flags dot the field, which will be turned over for development to approximately 20 households.

We escape the heat of the battle area, moving cautiously but quickly to the control point. Accidents in BAC areas are rare but known to happen — sometimes a rouge landmines will be mixed amidst the other explosives  The deminers laugh as we awkwardly remove our PPE — they still have several hours of work left and the sun isn’t even high in the sky.

**

Our second stop is Rokon, where an EOD team has secured and prepared unexploded ordnance for a controlled demolition. This is our third controlled demo, but Lado, the site supervisor, runs through the safety protocol for good measure. As there is no on-site shelter, everyone within the cordon area must wear PPE. There aren’t enough sets of body armor and visors, so several of the EOD team members volunteer theirs to us.  In retrospect, I should have joined them outside the safety perimeter — it was unmercifully hot to begin with.

NPA will be destroying three rockets the EOD team found and secured. The area has high contamination from landmines and UXO used by the Sudan Armed Forces. The EOD team has waited for our arrival — normally, they would run the demolition without delay and move on to the next task. Juba is approximately 90 kilometers away. Despite the distance, trucks and motorcycles pass frequently before the security perimeter is established.

The demolition stands out not only because it is the largest we have conducted this far but also because it starts a small forest fire. With the thermometer hitting 110 degrees Fahrenheit, this is exactly what I needed.

**

Our final destination is lunch, naturally. A variety of field foods have been set up in the NPA came a few kilometers from the UXO demolition.  We dig in to rice, hearty beans, chicken and more traditional items (including a nondescript starch item that has no taste but is immensely appreciated after seven hours of field visits).  We are a little off schedule, so we don’t get to meet the manual demining team until after lunch. They’ve finished for the day and have come back to their campsite to rest. I leave tomorrow, so I’m more than happy to hang out and take it all in. Unfortunately, Juba is still two hours away and we have to be going.

Happy trails,
Geary


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.

CISR in Sudan 2012: A day in the life with Mines Advisory Group



This is how it is supposed to go, we thought, trudging into the fields and teak forest near our camp. 

**

On Sunday, we came to Yei from Juba with Mines Advisory Group. We had started this morning with a visit to a local school for a mine-risk education session. There, MAG risk-education leaders had taught lessons on safer behavior around mines and other threats. The children laughed, played along with the leaders and ended the session by singing a song with us: Mines, mines are danger. Whether you’re tall or short, fat or thin, mines are dangerous to us all. 

Our second stop was a risk-education session for a local community that had reported suspicious materials near its encampment. We traveled from the school to a gathering of tukuls a few hundred meters from the MAG compound on the Juba-Yei road. About 40 villagers—men, women and children of all ages—had requested that MAG come and share information on dangerous areas. Growth in Yei is visible all around—new tukuls and buildings crowd freshly cleared land everywhere. As populations move outward from the town center, land development uncovers new threats. 

When the session ended, community members approached the MAG community liaisons with further questions. One man held back for a while and then asked the question that would change our itinerary for the day: What could MAG do about the weapon he had found in his field?

**

So there we found ourselves, following the farmer and MAG community liaisons down the road and into the woods. Several hundred meters from the road, near the boundary of new agricultural area, the farmer pointed out a 60mm mortar shell in a termite hill. The MAG weapons-destruction team conferred, while the community liaisons gathered information from the farmer. We had lucked out—not only had the community liaisons solicited important reports of dangerous areas, but the MAG team could remove the threat that very afternoon. 

We returned to the dangerous area after midday. Eugene, MAG EOD Team Leader, conducted a security briefing for his team and our group. Sentries established a cordon to keep civilians (and animals) out of the area, while Eugene and his team prepared the demolition. As I had never initiated a demolition before, I got the honors. 

A short countdown, a big boom and it was all over. Most days the job is not flashy, but when it is, it really is. 

While MAG might normally have secured the unexploded ordnance and moved it for a large demolition, turning around on the munition in one day showed the community that MAG can be a trusted partner for safety and security. Although the mortar shell was a routine spot-clearance task for them, it was amazing to see the full scope of their work. And to think, it all started with a local farmer and community liaisons a few hours before. 

Soon, we will move a few kilometers out of the town center to the Norwegian People’s Aid compound. There, we will see its mine-detecting dog training facility and conduct field visits to minefield- and battle-area clearance operations. 

Happy trails, 

Geary

Geary Cox II (’06, ’08M, ’15P) is project manager and program coordinator at CISR. He joined the staff as an Editorial Assistant to the Journal of ERW and Mine Action in March 2005. He holds a Master of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Arts in English and political science, both from James Madison University. He is pursuing his doctorate in nonprofit leadership at JMU’s School of Strategic Leadership.

Walking into the UXO destruction site. SIMAS Director Jonas Anuar and JMU HD Fellow Katie Smith walking last. SIMAS field visit, Part 2… Wherein Katie blows things up

Our trip to the mine field [view previous post] was just the beginning of our field visit on Friday. We make a quick stop at a mechanical demining site along the banks of the Nile. Until recently, SIMAS lacked sufficient resources to outfit and maintain a mechanical demining team. The equipment allows them to clear land more rapidly and will be a critical component in clearing dangerous areas before the rainy season suspends operations.

We travel 2 kilometers southeast to the roadside control point for the unexploded-ordnance detonation site. Although deminers must blow up mines and UXO  sometimes in situ (in place), they greatly prefer moving the weapons off-site for a controlled detonation.

Eight mortar shells are partially buried in a pit and covered by sandbags. In a pit, set back safely from the road, the UXO team  placed sandbags over eight mortars and primed them with explosives. Zlatko handled weapons destruction in the aftermath of the Bosnian war. Every second day, the teams would have collected more than two tons of explosives. Our task would be significantly smaller: 25 kilograms in eight mortars.

Then the fun began: The field supervisor unwound det cord and set the charge. Our group took cover behind a small hut constructed with tree limbs and sandbags. Tradition holds that the sitting HD Fellow usually gets the honor of setting off the demo, so Katie got some quick instructions and the countdown began. Five… four… two… one… the field supervisor counted down into his walkie talkie, the numbers echoing out of everyone’s radios behind the hut. Zero… fire…

SIMAS field supervisor prepping the detonation. BOOM. Katie screamed and then giggled. The rest of us laughed as debris, carried by the explosion and wind, fell nearby. Just like that, we were finished.

**

SIMAS is an amazing success story in a landscape of frustrated efforts. The first nongovernmental organization in South Sudan to receive international accreditation for its demining teams, SIMAS receives funding and support from the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA), the United Nations and other organizations. It partners with UNICEF to deliver mine-risk education and can conduct manual and mechanical clearance as well as UXO spot clearance.

I have a keen interest in resource development for indigenous NGOs, so our conversation back at SIMAS headquarters during lunch and after was fascinating. The organization has an engaged and well respected board that has helped SIMAS establish strategic objectives. Jonas, the director, said that they are constantly asking, “If international organizations withdraw, where are we going to be?”

CISR Project Manager Geary Cox ('06, '08M, '15P) with JMU HD Fellow Katie Smith ('09) and PM/WRA Program Manager Emma Smith Atkinson ('09) at entry point for UXO storage and destruction area. To help plan for this, SIMAS develops its teams leaders and office personnel. Should funding become available, SIMAS deminers are accredited to high enough levels that operations can rapidly expand. The organization has also received superlative remarks on all three of its independent audits, building confidence for donor countries and organizations.

Plans are also in the works to build a sustainable infrastructure into the HQ compound. Solar panels on an accommodation building and other improvements could mean SIMAS no longer has to buy fuel to run generators and other equipment, and the accommodation block would reduce costs and increase income.

SIMAS team with visitors from JMU and Dept of State. Director Jonas Anuar standing far right. FSD Technical Advisor Zlatko Gegic stands fourth from left. I will return to CISR and JMU with a head full of ideas on possible collaboration with this amazing organization. As a student of NGOs, I am perhaps most excited about what more I can learn from Jonas and his team.

It is Saturday evening as I write in Juba, and a number of soccer (yes, soccer—they have not won me over to football just yet) matches are on the hotel bar’s TVs. We have a BBQ scheduled at Embassy-Juba later tonight before heading to field sites in Yei tomorrow morning. I will update as I can.

Happy trails,

Geary

Geary Cox II (’06, ’08M, ’15P) is project manager and program coordinator at CISR. He joined the staff as an Editorial Assistant to the Journal of ERW and Mine Action in March 2005. He holds a Master of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Arts in English and political science, both from James Madison University. He is pursuing his doctorate in nonprofit leadership at JMU’s School of Strategic Leadership.

CISR in Sudan 2012: SIMAS field visit, Part 1

It is Friday morning, and we sit 16km south of Juba on the site where a car full of people were all killed in 2008. Four or five people (accounts vary) were riding along unmarked roads in the outskirts of the capital when they struck an anti-tank mine. The burned and rusted bumper of the car lies a few meters behind us, in the place where it was thrown by the blast. That same year, two local boys were killed by another AT mine while playing in the bush about half a kilometer away.

The weather is warm (95 degrees Fahrenheit) with a merciful breeze rustling through the stunted trees and scrub. In under a month, the rainy season will begin and continue until October. Lush grasses taller than most men will cover the field where we sit, and demining work will have to be suspended. That gives the South Sudan Integrated Mine Action Service (SIMAS) teams little time to finish their work here.

Founded in 1999, SIMAS is the only internationally accredited nongovernmental organization in South Sudan. Its director, Jonas Anuar, sits to my right during our safety briefing. Before us, John Michael, a SIMAS demining team leader and today’s field-visit supervisor, explains the area map and marking posts.

John Michael tells us that, before the civil war for South Sudan’s independence, this area was a village. In the early 1990s, this area was fought over by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the Sudan armed forces. Located along the River Nile on the southern approach to Juba, it had strategic importance for both sides.

The armed forces laid several AT mines to prevent encroachment from the rebel forces, and the area had a high contamination from unexploded ordnance, abandoned bombs and mortars. Now, after years of fighting and two serious landmine accidents, no one will return.

SIMAS has worked here since February 2011, toiling for more than a year despite funding and weather delays. Thus far, they have cleared 56,872 square meters of land (about 5.5 percent of the total dangerous area). That leaves 1,023,128 square meters (94.5 percent) to be cleared. SIMAS teams hope to finish by the end of April 2012, before the rains begin. This seems paradoxical—five percent in one year, 95 percent in one month—until you realize that all land to this point was cleared by hand. By using mechanical demining on the remaining, less dangerous areas, SIMAS can speed the process.

To this point, deminers have worked on their hands and knees for hours a day, prodding and carefully excavating soil near suspected mines and unexploded ordnance. To make matters worse, as the dry season wears on into January and February, deminers must water each patch of ground they work. Without watering, the ground is too hard to probe properly—the hard soil could give way at any moment, causing their probes to detonate a mine inches away.

John Michael and Jonas lead us until the field, and we are joined by Zlatko Gegic, a technical advisor from the Swiss Foundation for Demining (FSD) who has worked with SIMAS for the past two years. Our boots crunch the trimmed stalks of river grasses and scrub brush, winding down warn paths in the hard, dry soil.

Everything is painstakingly labeled here, from the boundaries of the cleared areas to the medivac site, the control point and the metal-detector testing point. We pass the ‘resting area,’ where the deminers take a break in the shade. There are not enough sets of personal protective equipment (PPE, blast-shielded overalls and visors) for everyone, including our visiting party. The deminers had to give up some of their light blue PPE and stop demining while we visit. They did not seem to mind.

Villagers selected this area for demining and contacted the South Sudanese government to request it be a priority. The rich river soil is prime for agricultural production, and the capital is growing swiftly outward. On our drive from Juba this morning, Emma remarked at how quickly the city had grown since her last visit in December 2010. Zlatko says that Juba is the fastest growing capital city in the mid-Africa belt, if not the entire continent. Communities of hastily built huts and shacks line the roads leading from the city, and everyone only expects a further influx given instability in the northern counties.

Much remains to do and see on our visit, including a controlled detonation of UXO down the road (Katie gets to prime and detonate the explosion), which will come in another post. We wriggle out of the PPE and hand it back to their owners—the deminers have to get back to work.

Happy Trails,

Geary

Geary Cox II (’06, ’08M, ’15P) is project manager and program coordinator at CISR. He joined the staff as an Editorial Assistant to the Journal of ERW and Mine Action in March 2005. He holds a Master of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Arts in English and political science, both from James Madison University. He is pursuing his doctorate in nonprofit leadership at JMU’s School of Strategic Leadership.

CISR in Sudan 2012: Step 1—Decide on Step 1


Everywhere you look in Juba, something is under construction. Driving in from the airport this afternoon, buildings stood (or not) in such various states of construction that it was impossible to tell what was going up and what was coming down. 

This sense of perpetual transition suffuses everything. Even at dinner, when a technical adviser from the German military spoke with Emma, Katie and I about disarmament and security-sector reform, there were serious questions about prioritizing activities. If you knew that weapons stockpiles needed better security and that community-disarmament efforts still bring in huge amounts of uncontrolled weapons, which would you pursue: a few large-scale projects to build armories or many small-scale improvements (fences, locks, inventories) of existing facilities? And what about training of staff? And the development of standard operating procedures? And coordination between government departments and agencies?

Difficult decisions were raised, and everyone we met in our few hours on the ground was focused on one thing: helping the South Sudanese people make the best decisions for themselves under a short timeline. Even the advisers and nongovernmental-organization workers are in a state of perpetual transition. The longest billet I have heard of thus far is 17 weeks, which, when you think about it, is not that long at all to rotate in, conduct assessments and advisements, and rotate out. Most people are working on more limited time. 

Our meetings start in earnest tomorrow, which will be a great opportunity given our short time here, too. There was only one snafu in the whole 27-hour adventure to get here: We arrived, but our luggage didn’t. No matter. As you can see from the picture of our walk back to U.S. Embassy-Juba, Emma and Katie are carefree. 

Happy trails,
Geary

P.S.: One of the things we did during check-in was pick call names for Emma (Duke Dog) and Katie (Dolley). I did not get one, but there is still time before we head to the field. Make your suggestions on the Facebook page, and we’ll see what works out. 

CISR in Sudan 2012: Six shots, one visa


Confidential to all: I am afraid of shots, heights, flying, large bodies of water and cats. With the exception of that last item, I’m going to have to confront all of these Tuesday for my trip to the Republic of South Sudan.

I mentioned in a previous post the excitement of visiting the world’s newest country and CISR’s colleagues and friends there. Unfortunately, we only received our passports/visas for travel to South Sudan, so some quick changes to our itinerary are in order. We’ll depart Tuesday, 20 March and have more time for field visits with Mines Advisory Group, Norwegian People’s Aid, the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) and local partners.

Maybe the pure excitement of travel and not my crippling fear of needles had me in a cold sweat last week at the local Department of Health. Instead of getting the one immunization for which I had come (yellow fever), the nurse gave me two additional shots (polio and meningitis). Her suggestion of a fourth (influenza) was a non-starter; I’ll take my chances with that one.

In all, I’ve had six immunizations over two doctors’ visits and a typhoid vaccination protocol that came (mercifully) in pill form. I also have a baggie of malaria pills to take (daily, with milk or food) beginning two days prior to departure and continuing a week after we return.  The tedious rules about vaccinations (yellow fever at least 10 days before departure but not with the typhoid protocol, which takes seven days total) and anxiety over travel notwithstanding, we’re pretty much going to have the time of our lives.

As for my fear of cats, it’s still early.  We may always see some lions.

Happy trails,

Geary

Geary Cox II (’06, ’08M, ’15P) is project manager and program coordinator at CISR. He joined the staff as an Editorial Assistant to the Journal of ERW and Mine Action in March 2005. He holds a Master of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Arts in English and political science, both from James Madison University. He is pursuing his doctorate in nonprofit leadership at JMU’s School of Strategic Leadership

CISR in Sudan 2012: Preparing for the big trip

The official birth of a new country is a rare occasion, and rarer still when the process can be orderly and peaceful. On 9 July 2011, CISR staffers watched as the Republic of South Sudan secured its hard-won, long-desired independence.

The moment was especially meaningful for those of us who worked on the 2011 Senior Managers’ Course in ERW and Mine Action. From mid-May to mid-June, CISR hosted 17 senior-level managers of landmine-remediation programs on the campus of James Madison University. As with all of our programs (but more so with an in-residence course like the SMC), a real camaraderie formed in our cohort. 

So when the Republic of South Sudan seceded from the Republic of Sudan, our thoughts were with these two states… but mostly with two of our participants—one from either side of the world’s newest political border. 

This Saturday, 17 March*, I will join two staff members from the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) on a trip to Sudan and South Sudan. Besides this exciting opportunity for CISR, I have to provide some disclosure: The PM/WRA staffers and I are good friends and alumni of JMU. 

Emma (Smith) Atkinson is program manager for weapons-destruction programs in Sudan, South Sudan and several other African countries. Previously, she served as the Frasure-Kruzel-Drew Memorial Fellow for Humanitarian Demining at PM/WRA and as a CISR Editorial Assistant, where she helped us facilitate a planning conference in Bogota, Colombia.

Katie Smith is the current HD Fellow at PM/WRA, having spent the past nine months assisting Emma with weapons-destruction programs in Sudan, South Sudan and elsewhere in Africa. She taught English for a year following graduation in American Samoa. 

CISR staffers have many preparations leading up to travel, yet the best one for me is contacting our colleagues and friends to plan reunions. In the coming days, I hope to share more about our preparations for this exciting trip. While we’re on-the-ground, I will do my best to post to the CISR blog… keep an eye out for updates.

Happy trails,

Geary

*Note: I should also mention that, as I write this Wednesday, 14 March, we still have not received our passports/visas for travel. All my immunization shots may have just made me the healthiest person who couldn’t leave the country.

Geary Cox II (’06, ’08M, ’15P) is project manager and program coordinator at CISR. He joined the staff as an Editorial Assistant to the Journal of ERW and Mine Action in March 2005. He holds a Master of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Arts in English and political science, both from James Madison University. He is pursuing his doctorate in nonprofit leadership at JMU’s School of Strategic Leadership