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Danish Demining Group Helps Empower Somali Communities

  • William Eagle

Mine risk education provided to people fleeing famine and drought

An NGO has been working in Somalia to help bring stability and safety to communities living in fear of landmines.

The Danish Demining Group (DDG) says it’s been working throughout the country to clear deadly mines. Even more -- it’s also been educating communities at a grassroots level about what they can do to create a safer environment.

“The programs are going well, but we have some obstacles towards implementation,” said Klaus Ljoerrinng Pedersen, the DDG regional director for the Horn of Africa. "Access is a key requirement, obviously, and the areas that have been occupied by Al Shabaab have been inaccessible for us,” he said.

“We had some earlier negotiations a year ago but they wouldn’t allow us in do to our humanitarian mine action work. We were seen as part of the work of the UN in Somalia,” said Pedersen.

But the group still has been able to put many mine actions programs in place throughout the country and those, said Pedersen, are doing well.

The current famine in Somalia presents challenges for mine safety because of the huge movement of people.

“Famine causes people to move. They need to move away from the drought-ridden areas,” said Pedersen, who explained, “They walk for days and days. That results in two things: First, people are displaced so they don’t know the area they are walking into -- they don’t know if there are some in fields. Second, people are focused on their food situation so they do take risks.”

Pedersen said people need to be educated about the risks and DDG does work to deliver mine risk education to people who are on the move. The group also does clearance as soon as it learns of dangerous objects.

Through research, Pedersen said, DDG found that one of the best ways for communities to be safe is to empower them to create their own safe environments.

“This basically means we mobilize communities and have them formalize a safety plan, where they identify the risks and the solutions,” said Pedersen, who added that basically the safety plans are owned by the communities.”

He said where it is necessary, the communities are supported by the DDG and other organizations.

“Whenever we do this and empower them to identify and envision a safe community, people become proud and have a sense of duty. They take on responsibility to take charge of their own destiny,” said Pedersen.