Following a three-year peace process, the government of Sudan and the southern-based Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army SPLM/A signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement on 9 January 2005 which put an end to years of conflict. Mines were part of the war arsenals used by the government forces and the rebels. As a result, many regions and roads of South and North Sudan are still plagued by landmine contamination.
While the actual mine contamination prevents the rebuilding and re-use of the land, the fear of mines can be just as damaging. Refugees in neighbouring countries and internally displaced people (IDPs) hear reports of mine contamination and are more reluctant to return, increasing the dependency on the international community and reducing the ability of South Sudan to rebuild.
FSD is currently running two closely linked projects in Southern Sudan: mine field clearance and building the skills and capacity of our local NGO partner the Sudan Integrated Mine Action Services (SIMAS).
Mine Field Clearance in Rajaf East
The mine clearance is being done on a large area of land on the banks of the river Nile about 15 kilometres from Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan. The mine field was laid to prevent access to the landing stages on the river, and so reduce the movement of opposing forces. The site, close to the village of Rajaf East, had a settled farming community before the war, and once safe will provide access to prime agricultural land. The local people here grow vegetables and keep poultry, goats and cattle.
The work to clear the mine field is slow and requires a lot of patience. Now it is the rainy season and the vegetation is very dense and taller than the men working to clear the mine field. There are areas of ponds and bogs with many dense shrubs and trees. As a result, the only way to make the land safe is by manual de-mining. Every square metre of the land must be checked for mines; the grass tested for trip wires, cut to 20 cm, tested again, and then cut short. The deminers can then visually check the ground, and pass the metal detectors over it. A signal from the detector may indicate a piece of metal that could be part of a land mine, an item of unexploded ordnance, a piece of shrapnel, or a simple scrap of metal from domestic rubbish or items. But every signal has to be carefully excavated, checked and the item removed and destroyed to make the land safe.Only then can people return to live and farm the land.
Building Local Skills
One of the major issues for any organisation working in South Sudan is to empower community ownerships through knowledge transfer and capacity building. Many people have known nothing but war, life as a soldier or life in a refugee / IDP camp. In these situations where everything is delivered, people become institutionalised and lose the skills to manage on their own.
The partner of FSD in South Sudan is the Sudan Integrated Mine Action Service (SIMAS). FSD is working closely with SIMAS to help it become an independently functioning non-governmental organisation (NGO) able to manage its own operations, raise funds and run the organisation.
SIMAS is the first indigenous Sudanese registered NGO working in mine action. It is also the first indigenous Sudanese organisation to apply for accreditation by the UN Mine Action Office to clear mine fields. Thanks to the support provided by the National authorities and donors, the programme will continue in 2008 and beyond.