By Håvard Bach | Head of APOPO Mine Action

International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.

Mine Action clears paths and creates safe ground on which homes can be built and land can be cultivated. It gives new horizons and hope to the 60 million people worldwide living at risk in vulnerable communities. Everyone has the right to basic security in their lives, and not fear of their next step. By removing landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW), APOPO lays the foundation for recovery and sustainable development: roads reopened, bridges crossed, schools attended, and livelihoods earned.

Farmer Mao Sarun, with his surplus post-clearance harvest.

APOPO, through integrating its mine detection animals, is committed to clearing landmines and releasing land at an accelerated pace, helping to protect more people and release whole communities from a daily anxiety. The need for protection against landmines is not unique to humans. Mines are also found in isolated areas where endangered wildlife roams, such as along the border between South West Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Over the last few years Mine Action has rapidly evolved from confined landmine related activities, to actions associated with the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), disarmament and the unique situation in the Middle East, where there is a high demand for building clearance, removal of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and clearing booby trapped devices. The global focus has grown and our main emphasis on landmines needs to evolve. There is a large demand for efficient survey and clearance methods that can address challenges in the extended sector. APOPO is a small international charity organisation and it is reasonable to ask what we can offer in this new theatre.

APOPO  HeroRAT teams quickly find hidden landmines lurking under the ground.

We can offer innovative and efficient solutions that surpass traditional mine action and will speed up the wider survey and clearance process. Our focus remains on landmines, but we are also willing to expand it. With the right attention and effort, we could better address new disarmament challenges in a wider partnership with other organisations. APOPO can offer innovation and new and efficient methodology. Our most important contribution is to offer integration of efficient and complementary technology to that provided by others.

Therefore, we are thrilled to announce that APOPO has been invited to join the global “Landmine Free 2025” coalition. ​This makes APOPO part of the global response to rally support for landmine clearance and ensure people affected by landmines are not forgotten. This campaign is a call to action to work together to do more, and faster. We will work more closely with other Mine Action NGOs and with national authorities to support or develop plans for clearance and the funding to achieve it

In 2019, we continued to clear landmines and ERW in Angola and Cambodia. Both countries are among the top five mine-affected countries in the world. We deploy a mix of scent detection animals to get the job done: rats for clearance, dogs for technical survey and manual deminers and machines to support the animals. Using this further expanded toolbox, APOPO Cambodia teams have increased efficiency five-fold over the last 3 years. We have also deployed animals in South Sudan and with partners, we could further expand into more mine-affected countries and territories. Our commitment towards higher operational efficiency could generate sector-wide efficiency achievements beyond what we can achieve alone. There is more interest within the wider industry in partnering with APOPO for integration of animals now than ever before.

Much work remains to realise a world free of mines, and as we forge ahead through the course of 2020 with a joint focus. Only with the continued support of our partners and donors, we will be able to do so. This year, APOPO is also looking to implement a pilot project to prove the concept of using technical survey dogs as part of cluster munition survey and clearance in South-east Asia. We will further maintain our commitment to support communities that are affected by mines, ERW and other explosive items. With more funding and strategic partnerships, we will expand our efforts towards a Landmine Free 2025.

Let us pay tribute to the APOPO men and women who show extraordinary bravery in their mine clearance work. Today is International Mine Awareness Day. Join us and show support and solidarity with all those affected by landmines, and those working towards a Landmine Free 2025.

APOPO Mine Action is most grateful to its donors and partners who are
instrumental to the success of our landmine clearance program.