The mine clearance team in northern Lebanon | © Oriane van den Broeck / HI
HI’s deminers are clearing mines in northern Lebanon, in an area contaminated during the 1975-1990 conflict. The aim is to remove the threat facing villagers.
A total of 700,000 square metres of land have been cleared of mines since 2011 - the equivalent of one hundred football pitches. Between 2017 and 2018, HI’s mine clearance experts found and destroyed 4,500 explosive devices.
HI’s four teams of deminers are currently clearing fields in the district of Bsharri, which were contaminated by anti-personnel mines in the 1980s. The mined areas are very close to several villages. Accidents just after the civil war, in the 1990s, made a lasting impression on the local population. Since then, HI has provided them with information on the threat from explosive remnants of war and set up warning signs.
HI’s mine clearance experts operate in different types of terrain, depending on the season. They work at high altitude in summer, and in winter, when it starts to snow, they return to the lower ground. Sometimes the land is hard to get to and the mine clearance experts have to build a makeshift staircase with sandbags to access the area they are working in. Heavy rain makes the slopes slippery and sometimes prevents teams from working.
The mines in Bsharri are old and buried in thick undergrowth. Mine clearance experts use metal detectors to locate them. When they find one, rather than move it, the team leader detonates it on the spot. Other mines are plastic and cannot be picked up by metal detectors. To find them, mine clearance experts probe large swathes of land and neutralise the danger.
HI stays in permanent contact with villagers who live close to the minefields where they work. It is essential to update them on operations, particularly if they own land cleared of mines. It is also vital to warn local shepherds, who are among the most frequent casualties. After the civil war, many villagers had to sell their mined land and leave the region.
Since the start of the clearance operations, 30,000 villagers have returned to their land. Today, 76% of owners have rebuilt their homes or started growing olives, pears and grapes again.