Many South Sudanese have been returning home to farm the land and live their lives after United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) workers spent years clearing huge portions of the country that were littered with unexploded ordnance. Still, officials warn the work is far from over.
In December, U.N .mine workers detonated a number of unexploded ordnances in Amee, a village located 135 kilometers southeast of Juba, but civilians still come across unexploded devices.
Okolo Joseph, a resident of Lokiliri Payam in Central Equatoria state, said his son James Wani, 6, was maimed by a landmine last April while playing with other children who found an unidentified object on the ground.
“... He tried to chase the younger ones away and said, ‘leave us alone.’ At the end, when the rest of the children tried to turn their backs on [him], running away, he threw the object behind them and that was how the incident happened,” Joseph told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.
He said his son still feels severe pain in his injured leg and he cannot do much of anything in his day-to-day life without help. “For him to move without a stick is a problem. I am sure this guy cannot be able to do anything for himself because leg is important for you to stand, digging and maybe moving to collect something,” Joseph said.
Lokiliri resident Mario Ladu said his son, Michael Ladule, 13, was struck by an unexploded bomb in August last year. Michael and other children were playing with an unidentified object they found on the ground when it suddenly exploded. Michael suffered head injuries that he is still dealing with, according to Ladu.
“He is no longer normal as he used to be, because the injury in the head has gone very bad with him ... The wound in the head appears like it has cured, but when you watch it closely you can realize that he still has problem,” Ladu told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.
Among the unexploded ordnance U.N. landmine workers have discovered, removed and detonated are Russian-made cluster munitions. They were dropped by the thousands across parts of South Sudan during the 21-year civil war between the Khartoum government and Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
UNMAS officials say clearing the unexploded ordnance have made it possible for thousands of families to return home and farm the land again.
Charles Tombe, 35, who fled Amee village during the SPLA-Khartoum conflict, returned home in 2011; he has been farming ever since.
“The places they have cleared help us. They give us freedom to use whether working and walking in them. It helps us a lot. And places they have marked as dangerous help and prevent us from encroaching them, because we already know they are dangerous,” Tombe said.
UNMAS official Richard Boulter told South Sudan in Focus that fighting during South Sudan’s own civil war, between 2013 and 2017, has slowed efforts to de-mine the entire country.
“While insecurity reigns, then banditry will remain prevalent, and it makes it very hard to send a team out with several vehicles, some high price kits, some food and some money and some fuel because they become high profile target for robbers,” said Boulter.
Since 2004, 1,404 people across South Sudan have been killed by unexploded ammunitions, and more than 3,700 others were injured by the devices, according to UNMAS.