Visiting Southern Lebanon
by Jamie Franklin
Earlier this year I made my first visits to MAG’s programmes in the Middle East and North Africa, and indeed my first ever visits to Northern Iraq, Southern Lebanon and Libya.
My visit to MAG’s program in Lebanon was an eye-opening experience and another demonstration of the hard work MAG deminers undertake day in, day out—often in difficult and tiring conditions.
I have worked for MAG for almost nine years and visited many other programs across Africa and Asia, but I have never seen clearance conditions as difficult and challenging as those I saw in Lebanon. MAG is the only demining and unexploded ordnance (UXO) clearance organisation in Lebanon to have mechanical assets and since the Lebanese countryside is so mountainous and rocky, MAG is often tasked with the most challenging tasks.
Most people would already call landmine or UXO clearance a dangerous job, but what I saw in Lebanon can only be described as extreme UXO clearance. The terrain in large areas of the south is very hilly and steep, with deep valleys, rocky slopes and rock-strewn summits. The cluster bombing in the 2006 conflict left vast areas littered with UXO in valleys and on slopes. Although some items may be lodged in areas too steep to use for farming, the UXO may get dislodged by rain or landslides, making them a threat to the families nearby.
The MAG Lebanon programme has developed creative clearance techniques to clear these challenging areas. Safety ropes and ladders are now common additions to the team tool kits and clearance methodologies have been adapted to incorporate rappelling. Never before have I seen slopes so steep that deminers and searchers have to use ladders to access the lower slopes and use safety ropes to clear the upper slopes. When MAG completes its work, the valley will be used for agriculture and the slopes and summit for grazing sheep and goats, as well as quarrying for construction.
The Lebanese Mine Action Centre (LMAC) anticipates that clearance of cluster munition contamination will be complete by 2016 and clearance of all landmine contamination by 2020. The goal is in sight and almost within reach for Lebanon, but the job is not complete and danger remains. Continued commitment and support from the international community is essential to ensuring that Lebanon is free of the impact of landmines and UXO by 2020.
Photo (c) J B Russell/MAG
Interning with MAG - PART 2: Lao PDR
by Síle Sammon
My name is Síle Sammon and I have been working with MAG since September 2011 as a Media and Communications Intern. After starting with MAG Cambodia I am now based in Vientiane with MAG Laos. (Here’s me testing the weight of a detector).
Viewing operations for the first time in Laos was a big change from Cambodia. While Cambodia is mainly contaminated with landmines, Laos is affected by cluster bombs. This is as a result of 2 million tons of ordnance being dropped on the country between 1955-1975, 30 per cent of which did not detonate and still litters many parts of the Laos countryside.
Since moving to Laos I have been to sites that have been cleared by MAG, such as at the UNESCO-listed Plain of Jars. I can’t help but notice the differences that arise between landmine and cluster munition clearance. Walking onto the clearance site was interesting as, unlike Cambodia, you are not wearing a helmet or PPE (personal protective equipment) which can often impede technicians when carrying out visual clearance. However one thing remains consistent- the high level of dedication when clearing, ensuring that people will have safe land that they can access and farm.
One of my main tasks as an intern with the MAG Laos programme is overseeing the updating of the visitor information centre in Phonsavanh, Xieng Khouang Province. I completed my first journey up there a few weeks ago. It takes 9-10 hours in total, taking into account stopping for food, but the scenery is amazing, passing right through the mountains to a province that even has pine trees, which I was not expecting to see. I have also found that long car journeys are an effective way of learning a new language and I have started trying to learn a few phrases of Laotian. I will be travelling up again soon to see how the visitor centre is progressing so I’m hoping the time spent travelling up there will be another chance to improve on language skills.
What I have gained from working with MAG is a deep respect for all the operational and community liaison teams that go out every day in all types of weather to carry out extremely challenging work. I have one more month left with MAG Lao and already I have been made to feel so welcome. My experience with MAG has been so valuable and has really made me aware of the problems faced by people with regards to landmine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) contamination. I have worked with some amazing people, and some great characters both from both programmes and I will continue to admire them for the work they do.