News / Africa

NGO: Guinea-Bissau to be Land Mine Free by Next Year

Former U.S. ambassador to Guinea-Bissau, John Blacken, shows some of the explosives his organization, HUMAID, has removed from the country
Former U.S. ambassador to Guinea-Bissau, John Blacken, shows some of the explosives his organization, HUMAID, has removed from the country

An organization dedicated to the removal of land mines from three conflicts in the small West African nation of Guinea-Bissau says the country will become mine free in 2012.

The land mine removal group HUMAID says it is close to completing its work in the mine-riddled countryside of Guinea-Bissau, a country of 1.6 million people that is nestled between Senegal and Guinea-Conakry.

Former U.S. ambassador to Guinea-Bissau, John Blacken, has led the organization for the last decade. He says he is hopeful it will have removed most of the anti-personnel and anti-tank mines still scattered in the north and south by the middle of next year.

More than 1,200 people have been victims of mines in Guinea-Bissau. These mines are left over from three conflicts, including the War of Liberation in the 1970s, the country's civil war in the late 90s and the Casamance rebellion in 2006.

HUMAID's priority was the capital city of Bissau, which had been turned into a war zone during the civil war in 1998 and 1999.  Thousands of civilians had fled the violence and upon returning to the city, unknowingly encountered mines that had been planted on the outskirts of Bissau, the front line of the conflict.

Blacken says he felt compelled to help this country, which he has lived in almost continuously since retiring from the foreign service in the late 80s.

“I said, 'Well, we've got no money, but if we don't start doing something, we're never going to get money.' So what we did, the eight of us, I had a pick-up truck - the eight of us started picking up the unexploded ordinances that were here at the center of the city,” he said.

Eventually Blacken got the funding he needed to buy more equipment and get manpower and says, since then, his organization has more or less had enough financial backing from international donors. Bissau was declared mine-free in 2006.

Most of Blacken's team are former soldiers who have been retrained in humanitarian de-mining. It is a dangerous and painstaking process that involves setting up a perimeter based on mine detection and interviews with locals. Personnel then partition the area and work in one meter wide blocks at a time, sticking rods into the ground at angles to try and find explosives.

HUMAID has cleared 3,571 mines as of 2010, and remarkably, has never had an accident.

HUMAID, a non-governmental organization, is currently working on mine fields from the Liberation War with Portugal. Guinea-Bissau declared its independence from the Portuguese in 1974.

Blacken says when his team began working in the area, local villagers said they had avoided accidents by completely bypassing the tracts of land adjacent to their houses.

“What is amazing to me was how they could keep their kids from running out there because when we were clearing it, there were mines within 50 meters of the houses. How you keep kids from running out there I never knew, but they apparently did. Or maybe the children are just too light to set them off,” he said.

Among the most common victims in Guinea-Bissau are cows and other livestock, which stumble across mines while grazing in fields. Blacken says as long as the explosive is good, the mine will stay active for decades, growing more fragile over time.

Blacken says it is difficult but fulfilling work.

“There is a lot of satisfaction in what we're doing, for them as well as for me. The satisfaction is every time you take a mine out of the ground, there's a threat gone to somebody's life,” he said.

It's not many NGOs that can say they've been put out of business after accomplishing their mandate, and Blacken says he is very proud of what he and his team have done.

You May Like

Forest Stands Between Nigeria, Victory Over Boko Haram

Military takes back nearly all towns, villages in northeast, except for massive expanse of forest that spreads thousands of square kilometers over several states More

IS Recruiting Stokes Fears for Parents in Georgia

Chechens are notable part of Islamic State's gains in Syria and Iraq, and analysts fear what might happen if those fighters return to Caucasus More

Yarmouk Camp Becomes Distant Memory for Palestinian Diaspora

Once thriving capital of Palestinian diaspora, after siege by Syrian government forces and Islamic State group, camp becomes 'deepest circle of hell' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'i
X
Sharon Behn
April 21, 2015 9:18 PM
A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten. Sharon Behn reports on the politics of the word genocide on the 100th anniversary of the events.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video German Program Helps Migrants Overcome Traumatic Experience at Sea

Migrants fleeing poverty and violence in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia risk life and limb to reach safety in Europe. Those who have made it to European shores are traumatized by the experience. A program in Germany helps survivors overcome the trauma by giving a new perspective to their catastrophic experience. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs