Azerbaijan. August 9, 2023
Since the 2020 Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan has been grappling with a significant landmine problem, leaving behind a perilous legacy of landmines and unexploded ordnance in the region. The aftermath of the conflict has had severe implications on the daily lives of residents, who have been unable to return to their homes and land due to the hidden dangers posed by these deadly hazards. To address this pressing issue, the Government of Azerbaijan, in collaboration with its Mine Action Agency ANAMA, has undertaken a large-scale operation to identify and clear the landmines, making the area safe for civilians and fostering development.
In support of these critical efforts, APOPO is implementing its innovative animal detection systems, which offer distinct advantages for mine clearance in terms of both speed and cost efficiency compared to traditional methodologies during technical surveys. APOPO’s trained animals, including mine detection rats (aka HeroRATs) and technical survey dogs (aka HeroDOGs), have proven their ability to reliably confirm the presence or absence of landmines, accelerating the process of reclaiming previously suspected land for productive use.
Mine contamination is more serious than initially thought
According to Mine Action Review, the scale of the mine contamination was initially underestimated, with ANAMA’s 2018 estimates suggesting an area between 350 and 830 square kilometers, containing between 50,000 and 100,000 mines. However, a mine map provided by Armenia in June 2021 revealed that the Aghdam District alone held a staggering 97,000 anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines, underscoring the gravity of the situation.
To address the problem, the UNDP launched a new project in 2023, in partnership with IEPF and two international NGOs – Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and APOPO. The project has received vital funding from the European Union, enabling the collective efforts to mitigate the landmine threat in Azerbaijan.
APOPO team visiting the future areas of operations with IEPF and MAG
With the support of APOPO’s animal detection systems, the three organizations are expected to accelerate the clearance in the Aghdam region. The program incorporates a diverse team of both international and local staff, including women from mine-affected communities. APOPO is actively promoting gender balance and inclusivity in demining activities, fostering a more equitable environment while positively impacting neighboring development activities in Karabakh.
APOPO sets up office and animal teams are successfully accredited
In late May 2023, APOPO mobilized its dedicated team, animals, and equipment, establishing a base of operations in Aghdam. Rigorous acclimatization training was conducted for the eight technical survey dogs and 12 mine detection rats, preparing them for ANAMA accreditation. During the subsequent months, the teams diligently completed their training, achieving a high level of proficiency in detecting landmines and explosive remnants of war.
Mine Detection Rat Team during ANAMA accreditation
In July, the teams successfully passed the ANAMA accreditation, marking a crucial milestone in their readiness for operations to begin in Aghdam on August 7. The focus is now on surveying and clearing at least 850,000 m2 of land before winter arrives. Throughout the winter months, the animal teams are slated to undergo maintenance training in indoor facilities, resuming their operations in March 2024.
Technical survey dog and handler in training
APOPO’s work is enabled by our local and international partners
APOPO’s dedication to releasing land in Karabakh has garnered the support and cooperation of its partners in the country. The organization remains steadfast in its commitment to making a significant contribution to accelerating the mine clearance efforts, and expresses heartfelt gratitude to its partners and donors, including the European Union and players of People’s Postcode Lottery, for making this critical project possible.
As APOPO’s animal detection systems continue to play a vital role in the mission to clear landmines and restore safety and stability in Azerbaijan, the hope for a brighter, mine-free future for the affected communities grows stronger.