Conflict and unrest have affected life in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) for decades – and the presence of mines and Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) continues to cast long and deadly shadows in 2022. DCA, with funding from the US State Department, is committed to the ambitious goal of making DR Congo landmine-free by 2025.
Demining saves lives – and gives acces to land and resources left inaccessible by the deadly curse of landmine contamination.
On the outskirts of a small village in the Tanganyika province of the DR Congo, a couple of hundred meters from the Congo River, 24 deminers from DanChurchAid (DCA) have set up camp with tents, a TV, and a small kitchen built in thatched huts.
Temperatures hover around 30 to 35 Celsius and insects insistingly swarm around people’s heads in the heat. From Monday to Saturday for the past couple of months, the deminers have set out in two teams at 6 AM toward two of the minefields in Kabalo.
According to Raymond Moma, administrator of the Kabalo territory, the community has been seriously confronted by the presence of landmines: “The community has had difficulties in going safely to the field because of the presence of mines. Daily I have been receiving messages from someone who had seen mines and who spoke of the difficulties of accessing the field.”
Cassava field turned mine field
The first minefield being cleared by DCA during the current project, Kasinge 1, is in a plot of land where farmers used to grow one of their main staples: the cassava root. The second minefield, Kasinge 2, is a road connecting two neighbouring villages, and which, even though it is contaminated with landmines and explosive remnants of war, it is still used by people in the area travelling either by foot or bicycle carrying goods and foods.
Some one hundred meters before the minefields in Kasinge, a small briefing zone is set up with a medical team, ready to intervene in case of an emergency. Because of the midday heat and the overwhelming number of insects which intensifies during the day, the teams usually work early: from 6 AM until 1 PM.
Meticulously they cut their way through leaves, bushes, and trees, and one might confuse their work for gardening – yet the possibility of being a few inches from an explosive item makes it obvious that caution is not only important; it is lifesaving.
Slow and arduous work
Working on their knees, the deminers first visually examine the ground some 50 centimeters in front of them, before they start removing leaves, cutting small bushes, and ensuring that no explosive items or booby traps (hidden triggers of explosives) are right in front of them.
Once a patch has been cleared, the deminers can use the metal detector, sweeping back and forth just above the ground to ensure that the 20 centimeters in front of them is indeed mine-free. It is a slow and arduous task, but they are used to the tough working conditions – many have worked with DCA since the first demining activities in DR Congo in 2005.
The Great African War left a great many problems behind
The landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) are leftovers from the first and second Congo War that took place at the end of the 1990s. The Congolese government and its allies, most prominently Zimbabwe and Angola, fought rebels in the east of the country supported by Uganda and Rwanda.
Because of the active participation of several neighbouring countries, this war is sometimes referred to as the Great African War.
Since then, the demining efforts have come a long way in clearing the Congolese soil for mines. Yet with a surface of 2.345 million km², 47 times the size of Denmark, three times the size of Texas, or roughly the size of entire Western Europe, clearing the mines spread across the Country is a demanding and time-consuming task.
Demining made possible by US funding
DCA’s demining efforts are funded by the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA), and in 2022 DCA is the only international non-profit organisation conducting mine action in DRC. The aim is ambitious, but with the generous funding, it should be achievable, making DR Congo landmine impact free by 2025.
|Hand Grenades (M75)
|AP Mine (AP TS 50)
In addition to removing mines, DCAs national partner Actions pour le Développement Intégral par la Conservation Communautaire (ADIC) conducts Explosive Ordnance Risk Education (EORE) and Non-Technical Survey (NTS).
Non-Technical Survey is the first action in the land release process, assessing the land and its categorisation as suspected or confirmed hazardous area. Risk Education raises awareness about the risk of mines and educates about how to act, and who to contact in the case a mine or another explosive is found.
Poor infrastructure hampers efforts
In 2023 and 2024, the demining team will travel to eight provinces across DR Congo to detect and dispose (or destroy) of the remaining mines. But travelling from one minefield to another is not easy – the infrastructure ranges from poor to virtually non-existent in many places. During the rainy season some areas are inaccessible and driving just a few kms can take a whole day. Working in a country as big as DR Congo can therefore be very challenging.
Demining is however of crucial importance to the population living nearby minefields as mines and explosives pose a constant threat to the people. Those most at risk are children who play in areas where they are unaware of the danger, or women who work in fields that were once battlefields.
Demining saves lives – and it opens villages, territories, and regions as contaminated roads, fields, and forests are cleared, and people can start growing crops on fertile, agricultural fields. Economic growth, food security, and market access are some of the positive side effects of demining.