Thailand offers its hospitality to millions of tourists every year and has become one of the biggest and most attractive tourist destinations in the world, charming its visitors with a rich array of history, culture, architecture and food. Yet few are aware of a considerable mine problem along the borders, especially with Cambodia, and that people living in these areas suffer from landmine accidents, fear of accidents and limited access to arable land.
What is it like to survive dangerous landmines? Watch this video, which features interviews with survivers, on APOPO's work in Thailand: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yApYLbESJl0
APOPO has built upon the excellent start in Thailand in 2011 where it implemented a Non-Technical Survey (NTS) program along the Thailand-Cambodia border. APOPO has partnered with a local Thai NGO, Peace Roads Organisation (PRO) and has been working closely with the Thailand Mine Action Centre (TMAC) to systematically survey all minefields along the border in Trat & Buriram Provinces.
NTS gathers detailed information about mined areas including the number of mines, location and size. The consequence of this NTS process is that considerable time, effort and money will now not be wasted clearing land unnecessarily. This then increases the efficiency and effectiveness for the mine action programs and will assist Thailand meet its mine ban treaty obligations.
I once met a four-year-old boy while visiting a physical rehabilitation centre in Colombia. He sat on a small chair in front of a small table. A woman, probably his mother, accompanied him. A physiotherapist sat on the other side of the table. She was holding some cards in front of him, and it looked like they were playing a game. I could not be further off. The boy tried to manoeuvre his hand to grip the cards, but his hand had been replaced with a prosthesis.
He seemed so small and earnest in his struggles and I could not help but cursing whatever had caused the loss of this boy’s hand. There was a conflict, but that little boy should never have been the target. The landmine that “took” him could not discriminate between soldiers and children and would strike anyone who would come across it. Just like a soldier that never sleeps and keeps on fighting til the bitter end, decades after the real war has ended. The silent soldier kills, maims and injures its targets indiscriminately – 70 to 85% of landmine casualties are civilians.
Most countries that suffer from mines are war torn, with poor or non-existing health care services. Many landmine victims will never receive the care and treatment that they need and should receive. The four-year-old boy has only begun his lifelong struggle. He is one of several hundreds of children and adults that fall victims of landmines each year. As the boy grows, he will require a new prosthesis every six months. He is probably luckier than most other mine victims, but this is poor consolation. For his and other victims’ sake, we cannot afford to slow down our efforts to rid the world of mines.
Finding and clearing mines is time-consuming, slow and dangerous. The problem is too big and has taken too long to get rid of, meaning that funds are drying out due to donor fatigue. For people who live among landmines, life will only be truly good when the last landmine has left the ground. Creating cost-effective, high-impact mine removal programs is therefore necessary to eliminate the mines left in former and active conflict regions around the world, such as Mozambique, Cambodia and Angola.
Clearance operations, however, are known to be slow and costly. In the past, it was found that clearance had been conducted in areas that contained no mines, because they can be hard to locate. In order to clear mines from the right areas, systematic collection of information prior to clearance is essential. This process is now often referred to as non-technical survey, which combines a desk assessment with field observations and informant interviews. The survey gathers and analyses past records, land use and visible signs of mines. The aim is to use survey tools, both non-technical and technical assets, such as manual deminers or mine detections rats (MDRs), to reduce the need for full clearance, which is more expensive and time consuming.
Low-cost mine identification and removal tools are also needed to maximize available resources. APOPO, for example, works with rats to aid this process. Rats are a very efficient tool for releasing large mine suspected areas and can help free areas from the threat of landmines efficiently and at very low costs. Our ultimate goal is to reach the zero new landmine victims goal in the countries where we work. It’s a hairy goal but we cannot aim for any less.
Read the original article on The Humanitas Global Development Blog.
Tuberculosis detection operations by trained sniffer rats began in Maputo, Mozambique in early 2013. For the first phase of operations, eight HeroRATs will analyze over 560 samples of human sputum per week.
The Mozambican staff and equipment are ready for the exciting start of APOPO’s new arm of TB operations. Local staff from the country’s capital city of Maputo, have started working with the animals. The staff were trained at APOPO’s TB headquarters and research facility in Morogoro, Tanzania, by a team of senior lab technicians and animal handlers, before they were sent to work in the Maputo facility.
APOPO the sole demining operator for the Gaza province has handed over a mine-free community to the government of Mozambique and Instituto Nacional de Desminagem (IND), the country’s national demining institute. This feat was accomplished a year before the deadline given to the social enterprise that researches, develops and implements detection rats technology for humanitarian purposes. (link to video on MDRs in Gaza)
For a country affected by remnants of a war that lasted 30 years, it had initially seemed like an uphill task to render Mozambique completely mine-free by 2014 according to the Mine Ban Treaty deadline. Now the clearance of the Gaza region has demonstrated that strong and collaborative efforts can indeed beget transformative and impactful results.
APOPO's strategic Gaza mine action program which started in 2008 has cleared over 6 million square meters of land in the province with a budget of just 5.5 million Euro. In its clearance efforts, the APOPO mine action team has found 2,393 landmines, 12,838 small arms and ammunition and 922 UXO.
Demining efforts in the last decade focused in the grossly-affected northern regions of Mozambique and several southern provinces such as Gaza fell through the cracks. Landmines posed a threat not only to the lives and safety of the people but also kept any development firmly away because of the ever-present danger of destruction.
APOPO formally declared the Gaza province free of all landmines and detonated the last three mines in December 2013 to commemorate the achievement and officially hand over the region to IND. Also present at the event were the Foreign Affairs Vice Minister for Government of Mozambique, Governor of the Gaza province, Country Representative of UNDP Mozambique, Diane Verstraeten, Chairperson of the APOPO Board, and the Belgian Ambassador to Mozambique
Speaking on the event on behalf of HRH Princess Astrid of Belgium, the Belgian Ambassador said “Today is a day for celebration for not only Mozambique and its people, but also for the rest of the world. The country has set a shining example of how national priorities can be achieved with the right partnerships, sustained effort and, most importantly, sheer human intent.”
As the existing team of Mine Detection Rats continues to achieve bigger milestones in Mozambique, APOPO has sent an additional group of 15 HeroRATs to strengthen its Mine Action projects in the country. In Chokwe, where our landmine operations are based, the new rats are exploring the environment and getting familiar with their new trainers. These HeroRATs are now undergoing their formal training and preparation for accreditation by the National Institute of Demining. They will practice sniffing for buried mines in the field early every morning for about a month. Once they train hard and pass the accreditation exam, the HeroRATs will immediately start operation in a live minefield. APOPO's Mine Action Program in Mozambique also has a brand new all-ladies demining team recruited to contribute to equal opportunity and employment in the area. This highly motivated team wholly comprises of women hired from the local communities and all without prior demining experience. APOPO's ladies team has already started operations, removing hand grenades and POMZ mines from the Chokwe minefield in Southern Mozambique.
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