SUDAN: UXO threat to development, elections
NAIROBI, 11 February 2010 (IRIN) - Major routes in Sudan have been cleared of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs) but there are still areas where the devices threaten civilians, as well as affecting aid and development efforts, say officials.
"The existence of landmines... continues to hamper the delivery of humanitarian aid and the return of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs)," Margaret Mathew Mathiang, deputy chair of the South Sudan De-mining Authority (SSDA) in Juba, told IRIN.
At least 1,903,729 returnees were projected to return home in Southern Sudan by June 2009, according to the International Organization for Migration.
"The implementation of humanitarian and development projects in this crucial post-war period is also affected. For instance, three bulldozers were blown up [along] a certain road in Eastern Equatoria [while] on a road expansion mission," Mathiang said.
Most of the mines and UXOs were planted by the Southern Sudan Peopleís Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudan national army during a 21-year civil war, which ended with the 2005 signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
While the clearing of some major routes has improved access, Mathiang expressed concern that unexploded bombs may hinder the smooth implementation of the CPA.
"[There] are still some locations, which were not reached during the census exercise," she said, adding that abandoned roads in these areas were suspected of being landmine-infested.
"The same obstacle might hinder some peopleís ability to move from the remote areas to voting centre[s] come the next election [unless] efforts are made to secure the safety of those roads."
The census was a key prerequisite for holding elections, scheduled for April, as dictated in the CPA.
At least 4,263 landmine victims have been recorded by the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) since 2002. UNMAS programme officer Takuto Kubo told IRIN that the actual number of landmine/UXO victims and survivors was likely to be higher.
Central Equatoria State, home to the capital, Juba, is among the most contaminated regions, while in the north, South Kordofan and Kassala states are most affected.
Since 2002, at least 31,642km of roads have been cleared, verified and opened, and thousands of anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines destroyed, as well as 847,263 UXOs and 1,147,671 small arms ammunition, said Kubo.
All major routes in North and Southern Sudan have been cleared and verified safe, with about 70 percent of the identified dangerous areas (minefields, UXO contaminated areas, or a combination), being cleared, he added.
But challenges remain, such as insecurity and inadequate funding. "[The] security situation in some parts of Southern Sudan and Darfur are also challenges to our operations,Ē he said.
Recent violence in some Southern regions left at least 2,500 people dead and 350,000 displaced, according to aid agencies.
UNMAS Director, Maxwell Kerley, on 28 January told a media briefing there was no evidence of new mines being laid in Sudan.
"However, all conflicts result in increased contamination by explosive remnants of war and the ongoing conflicts through various parts of Sudan means that contamination is continuing," Kerley said.
According to Kubo of UNMAS, most dangerous areas in the North and South will be cleared by mid-2011 with adequate funding. The residual threats would be dealt with by national capacities.
Mathiang of SSDA agreed that national demining organizations needed more funding.
"Most of our international partners take a stand-down period of three months during the rainy season. This makes the process slow," she said. "However, the national [demining] organizations donít have [a] stand-down period and can therefore be a good boost to demining if well supported."
More community awareness creation is also needed. "In some locations, communities donít cooperate and remove [mine] danger signs that are placed as marks," she said.
She added: "The Ministry of Roads could budget for mine clearance Ö since they have road expansion plans; the Ministry of Education could budget for the inclusion of mine-risk education in the curriculum and other teaching aids," she said.