Humanitarian mine action in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Somaliland

15.11.2023 - Article

Mines pose a double threat – preventing wildfires from being extinguished

Due to occasional detonations of residual mines, it has been impossible to extinguish wildfires in this area. Extinguishing wildfires is made even more difficult by the wind and very high temperatures.

– Head of the Ravno fire brigade

In the rural area of Baonine in Bosnia and Herzegovina, mined fields and forests pose a double threat. Mines are a direct risk to the safety of local people, who predominantly work in agriculture. At the same time, increasingly common periods of extreme heat are leading to more frequent wildfires in the region, and it is often difficult or impossible to extinguish them. The presence of mines means that firefighters cannot always access the fires – they would risk their lives by entering contaminated areas.

Humanitarian mine action in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Humanitarian mine action in Bosnia and Herzegovina© MAG

With funding from the Federal Foreign Office, the humanitarian NGO Mines Advisory Group has been locating and clearing mines and ordnance around Baonine since 2022. This is part of a larger project to make five communities mine-free: three in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and two in Republika Srpska. Together, the communities hope to benefit from this work by building up infrastructure for tourism, with the aim of fostering economic development and creating jobs for local residents. Humanitarian mine action is thus a prerequisite for reconciliation, economic development and safe disaster management.

Humanitarian mine action as a contribution to resolving overlapping crises

I have seen minefields where berkads (traditional water storage units) are cut off from the community because the berkad is surrounded by mines. In the times of drought, sometimes people have to cross the minefield in order to access water, and this is a very dangerous activity. However, when we have finished clearing areas like these, the local communities benefit from better access to water and grazing land, and this supports them during the drought. Working with other local partners, we also try to help communities to use the land for climate change mitigation even more.

- Faisal Muhumed, Deputy Operations Manager in Somaliland

The border region between Somaliland and Ethiopia has long suffered from violent conflict and environmental deterioration. This includes the degradation of land – nutrient-rich soils are carried away by wind and water erosion due to a lack of vegetation and water management structures. Recurring periods of extreme drought further strain the local population’s already restricted ability to provide for themselves. Shepherds are forced to drive their herds onto contaminated land in order to find food for them – directly increasing the risk of an accident caused by mines or explosive remnants of war. With funding from the Federal Foreign Office, the HALO Trust searches suspected hazardous areas and clears mines and ordnance in Somaliland and Somalia and, since 2022, on the Ethiopian side of the border, too. While mine clearance is vital to protect the lives of local people, it exacerbates the risks of land degradation. Grasses and undergrowth must be cut and removed for clearance operations, allowing erosion to progress. The HALO Trust therefore works with the local partner organisation Candlelight to restore grassland in areas that have been cleared of mines and ordnance. Irrigation systems are built and drought-resistant plants are grown in nurseries managed together with local communities.

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