[Dateline: New York | Author: UN Mine Action Office in Sudan]
The owner of one of these dwellings, Deng Malek, recently moved back to Kurmuk from Keili, where his family had gone to live with relatives. “We were all crowded, did not have our own place. Then we found out that they cleared the mines in Kurmuk and we returned to our land.”
Mr. Malek has now finished building a second house on cleared land.
Considered an important strategic site during the war, the Blue Nile state town of Kurmuk endured heavy fighting during Sudan’s civil war and was surrounded by minefields laid dangerously close to its residents. The mines have severely hindered local movement, blocking rain-fed agricultural lands, water sources, grazing grounds and commercial routes.
The UN Mine Action Office in Sudan (UNMAO) works diligently to release Kurmuk area land to help open up farming, animal grazing and borderline commerce. With a new road linking the state capital of Ed Damazin to Kurmuk, home-building on cleared land occurs almost overnight.
”The work of UNMAO is an innovative example of an effective, efficient and high impact project in Sudan,” says Max Kerley, Director of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS). “This demonstrates how mine action is more than just landmine clearance and how it can literally pave the way for development initiatives.”
UNMAO began assessing the impact of mines and unexploded bombs on the state in 2005. The process called “land release” started in Kurmuk in July 2006, with implementing partners collecting all existing documentation related to the minefields as well as all the evidence of accidents at the location to better define land to be cleared through different demining techniques and procedures. Land release efforts focused on emergency humanitarian priorities like settlement areas and access to water. It continued with the survey and clearance of minefields surrounding the town.
“As of July 2010, Blue Nile state was faced with a known problem of 61 dangerous areas, 20 defined minefields and 28 suspected hazardous areas throughout 54 communities,” said Armen Harutyunyan, UNMAO Regional Operations Coordinator for North Sudan. But these figures represented only known problem areas, and his office was constantly discovering new ones, the coordinator added. “In the 2010-2011 demining season, we aim to clear all high priority hazards first before addressing the remaining medium and low priority ones.”
Mechanical demining machines were used in six minefields defined through survey in early 2009. The machines shortened the work by at least two years, allowing over two and a half million square metres, or more than 300 football fields, to be safely released to local people.
“The inclusion of mechanical assets into Blue Nile state has had a great impact on clearance rates,” said Steve Davies, UNMAO Operations Officer in Blue Nile state. “We have been able to survey the fields more effectively and identify the high risk areas more quickly.”
UNMAO and the National Mine Action Centre have cooperated in releasing this land. The UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) Pakistani Demining Platoons and Ronco Consulting Ltd. have made it a reality, destroying over 7,000 anti-personnel mines, anti-tank mines and explosive ordnance devices.
“We are very grateful to UNMAO and its partners for the clearance activities in Kurmuk. Our people can now live in safety,” said Zakaria Mariat, Acting Commissioner of Kurmuk.
With Sudan gradually entering a developmental stage, UNMAO is working in partnership with the national mine action authorities to transition mine action activities to full national ownership by June 2011. This transition is being implemented by on-the-job training and mentoring of national staff, as well as the co-location of United Nations personnel in national mine action offices.