quarta-feira, 20 de abril de 2005

Note on demining

"In these wars, enemies see each other face to face less and lessfrequently. They perish as they walk, while everything around them is emptyand quiet. Death comes at them covertly, lying in wait under some sand,beneath a stone, under a clump of blackthorn. The earth was once the source oflife, a granary, something desirable. Now, in these parts, man regards theearth suspiciously, distrustfully, with fear and loathing."

an excerpt from "Another Day of Life" by RyszardKapuscinski (all about Angola and the war innit) And so Dear Readers, I return once more.

This time with a new perspective forI have completed the basic training that I had missed before, by getting a fulltime job with HALO by not leaving, rather than the usual three-to-six-monthex-pat program.Yes, I can now consider myself a Deminer. Please, don't get up.Yeah so like one week of repeating the rules and duties of a Deminer and thensix days of actual demining. Pretty easy really. But you find out a littlemore about these buggery things that are buried all over the place. The moreyou learn, the less you like them. I wont go into too much detail, but willgive you an idea of what goes on.Mines: two types - anti-personnel and anti-tank.Anti- tank are meant to disable vehicles etc. In some circumstances they areused as bloody great anti-personnel mines, tied to trees etc for maximumeffect. If you think that one of these will stop a fifty ton tank, imagine theresult of it exploding near a person, or not even that near.Anti-personnel is split into four sub-catergories; AP pressure and blast, APAnti-Group Fragmentation, AP AG Bounding Frag., AP AG Directional Frag.The most common are the AP Pressure and Blast. Very simple, you step on them,they go bang. Probably wont kill you, but you are likely to lose a limb. Achild would probably not survive. Hundreds of varieties, cheap to make, easyto use, last a long old time and totally indiscriminate.AP AG Frag: Usually on a stake above ground with a trip wire attached. Heavylump of metal that explodes sending shrapnel in 360 degrees. Lethal distanceof over 25m.AP AG Bounding Frag.: Detonated by trip wire, pressure or electronically. Hasa primary charge that shoots it up to roughly waist height, and then explodes. Filled with lumps of metal. Lethal radius anywhere up to 40m.AP AG Directional Frag.: Trip wire or electronically detonated. The biggesthas 12kg of explosive, has about 900 fragments and has a lethal distance of200m. These are designed to kill rather than maim. The HALO SOPs(working methods for us non-army types who can't remember bloodyTLAs(three-letter-acronyms)) have been tweaked and modified over the lastseventeen years of worldwide demining. There are various things that we do andother agencies don't, and vice versa. But, so far the fatalities from deminingfor The HALO Trust are still only in tens. Not bad when you consider we haveover five and a half thousand staff, and in Angola alone we have over fourhundred sapadores going into the field each day, that's about 15000 people ayear demining. And almost all deaths are because the deminer did not followthe rules. To date I have no idea how many square metres have been cleared orhow many devices destroyed. In 2002 we reached one million mines andUXO(unexploded ordanance). Anyhoo. If you are ever given the chance to have a go(?!) at demining for afew days, don't. It is bloody hard work and endlessly frustrating. Anexample; My first days demining were in the IIVA minefield, relatively smallwith a POMZ2 threat, laid defensively around a radio mast. A POMZ2 is an AP AGFrag. Usually found lying on the surface because the wooden stake has rottedaway. Makes them easy to pick up - don't do this. I was given a lane toclear. A lane being one metre wide, moving forward roughly twenty cm at atime. Now, we were told by the army(FAA) that they only put down these POMZ2sand so far at this minefield only this type has been found, thankfully withoutany tripwires. But, because of our SOPs every signal that we pick up with themetal detector must be investigated. This means digging a hole 20cm wide by20cm deep, starting 20cm back from the signal, and then scraping forward untilyou discover the source. Depending on the hardness of the ground this can takeup to an hour to finish. Imagine, on your knees in the blistering sun, wearingbody armour and a full facial visor, constantly watching where you put youhands and feet and removing about a spoonful of earth with each scrape. Inthree days of detector demining I dug about ten holes, cleared just over 9square metres, sweated the contents of a small middle eastern desert oasis, andfound one fencing nail, two screws(one painted blue), the top of a Coke can andan unidentifiable lump of metal. Plus a few handful of earth that made thedetector sing. I'm really glad I don't do that everyday for a living. In factI'm surprised we get Angolans to do it.The other type of manual deming is excavation. This method involves digging apit one metre by one metre and 20cm deep and then scraping the earth away inone direction until you find a mine. Tedious but effective. We use this whenthe groung is contaminated with metal clutter or when the earth is naturallyhigh in metal content and therefore plays merry hell with a detector, or whenthe threat is from mines with a low metal content. I did three days of this atthe San Antonio minefiled. A heavily mined embankment around a military base,running alongside a very busy road with a small but expanding communityopposite. This minefield had mostly a PMD6 threat. A wooden box mine made inRussia. The reason behind our SOP to start your excavation 20cm back, becausethis mine only has metal at one end, which means you may detect the hinge butif you start digging too close, you could come down on top of it and set itoff. So scrapey scrapey from the side. Well in three days of excavation Icleared almost 4 square metres and found some glass, lots of roots, six spentbullet cases and finally, five minutes before I was due to finish, a PMD6. Having never seen one up close I probably scraped and banged it more than Ishould have to make sure it was a mine. So, I done my bit, unlikely to godown in the record books, but one less to worry about. We left before I got tosee it go bang(we destroy all mines and UXO in situ). It can get boring, it can be dangerous but you are reminded everyday of why weare here and why it is necessary. Just last week four children decided to hitan old rocket with a stone. Three died and the other is not well in hospital. An AT mine will destroy the vehicle and all occupants of a normal car. Asingle AP mine can be enough to stop a farmer using a twenty acre field, orprevent the village reaching the good water supply.These things are still made, sold and used by some of the biggest, oldest andmost "civilised" nations in the world..... I don't know how to finish this.

Mind your step


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