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

Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community 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.
Ukraine Accuses Russia of Territorial Incursionsi
X
Zlatica Hoke
August 28, 2014 4:07 AM
Ukraine says a key border town (Novoazovsk) and surrounding areas of in southeastern Ukraine have fallen under the control of Russia's military. President Poroshenko says "Russian troops have actually been brought into Ukraine." Despite repeated denials from Moscow, Ukraine accuses the Kremlin of providing weapons and fighters to separatists in eastern Ukraine, toward the Russian leadership's alleged goal of annexing that strategic territory. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Accuses Russia of Territorial Incursions

Ukraine says a key border town (Novoazovsk) and surrounding areas of in southeastern Ukraine have fallen under the control of Russia's military. President Poroshenko says "Russian troops have actually been brought into Ukraine." Despite repeated denials from Moscow, Ukraine accuses the Kremlin of providing weapons and fighters to separatists in eastern Ukraine, toward the Russian leadership's alleged goal of annexing that strategic territory. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid