Clearing the Way in Chad: Assessment, Access and Impact

by Katharine Hopper [ Mines Advisory Group ]

The Mines Advisory Group began working in Chad in late 2004 with the objective of demining the water points in several of the war-torn provinces in the northern portion of the country. MAG formulated a three-phase plan that was extremely well-executed, even while dealing with the harsh desert climate, achieving its objectives before the deadline and under budget. A total of 21 watering points and 28 paths to access the watering points were cleared, while 84 areas were identified as dangerous. The work had a particularly positive effect on the local nomadic populations, who make a living traveling, often through mined areas, to trade goods.

A series of successive conflicts between 1977 and 1996 left much of Chad littered with landmines, unexploded ordnance and significant numbers of small arms and light weapons. Information gathered in the course of a Landmine Impact Survey conducted in 2000-2001 highlighted the extent and socioeconomic impact of mine and UXO contamination in Chad, particularly in the north. Unfortunately, the LIS team was unable to reach the northern province of Tibesti due to ongoing fighting in the area at the time of the survey.

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Much of Chad is littered with landmines and UXO.        All Photos Courtesy of Didier Leanord/MAG.

To address the problems faced by local populations living amid these items, the Mines Advisory Group started operations in Chad in late 2004 with a project funded by the U.S. Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in its Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. This three-phased initiative focused initially on restoring access to water points in Borkou and Ennedi provinces and in the last phase, Tibesti province. In the arid desert environment of northern Chad, access to water is a key factor in the survival of desert communities and a crucial consideration in terms of trade and economic development. Following the withdrawal of Libyan troops in 1987, many of these water points were suspected of contamination.

In the first phase of the project, MAG conducted a rapid assessment of clearance activities to date. This evaluation provided additional information for the Information Management System for Mine Action database and allowed the effective prioritization of key water-access-related tasks for the next phase of activities.

The second phase involved deploying a team to conduct the Technical Survey and, as appropriate, the clearance of water-access points and munitions caches and marking of impacted roads and tracks in Borkou and Ennedi.

The third phase of operations saw the completion of the remaining high-priority tasks in Borkou and Ennedi and the expansion of activities into Tibesti. This expansion was made possible by the signing of a peace agreement between the Chadian government and the Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad1 in August 2005 allowing MAG to start operations in and around Zouarke. This project marked the first time an international nongovernmental organization had visited the communities in this remote, but highly contaminated, part of Chad. It was a breakthrough in terms of providing much-needed humanitarian mine-action services and support to the peace-building efforts of the government in the area.

Humanitarian Impact

A key distinguishing feature of MAG's work in Chad was the direct benefit to both nomadic and settled populations. Northern Chad lies at the heart of historic trading routes across the Sahara from North Africa to sub-Saharan Africa, and the nomadic populations provide the economic link between the two regions, crossing vast areas of often heavily contaminated land. While there is no doubt that the decontamination of any area is of huge benefit to all communities, there is often little specific attention given to nomadic communities, which play an important role in sustaining the whole region and face particular dangers in the course of their movements and their activities. Both nomadic and settled populations are heavily reliant on these water points, which are rare in the deserts of northern Chad.

MAG's efforts in the northern provinces, often working in difficult and extreme conditions, have ensured increased access to water for local populations and resulted in the opening of the Route des Puits, or the Road of Wells, in the Koro Toro region. This road had been closed since 1987; it is a main access route to the north, with a number of suspected contaminated wells (as well as contaminated land) along the length of it. This clearance represented a key project achievement as work in this inhospitable terrain was an arduous task, but its clearance meant a material contribution to improving access to water for local and nomadic populations.

Though the nomadic populations themselves are by their very nature somewhat elusive, they have been quick to make use of the recently decontaminated water points, as evidenced by newly planted date palms around the water points. The nomads plant date palms where they have access to water and visit them once or twice a year to harvest them, trading the dates in exchange for goods. MAG has thus far cleared 21 water points and has marked 28 routes to ensure access to the water points is safe and unhindered.

In April 2006, following the violent clashes that took place when rebel forces entered N'Djamena seeking to overthrow the government, MAG was unable to deploy to the north due to the ongoing security situation. MAG was specifically asked by the Chadian High Commission for National Demining to support its teams in conducting battle-area clearance in the capital, providing an immediate emergency response in the three weeks following the fighting. The teams completed 11 BAC tasks and nine explosive-ordnance-disposal responses in N'Djamena, thus ensuring that the explosive debris of conflict did not pose an ongoing threat to local populations.

MAG was successful in building a relationship with the local authorities and communities. Local people provided the MAG teams with information that enabled the identification and destruction of several Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems, (shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles also known as MANPADS), including seven SAM-7's and one Stinger.2

Summary of MAG Activities in Chad

Challenges and Lessons Learned

There is no doubt that operating in Chad presented particular problems and challenges, not the least of which was the requirement for the teams to work in isolated and rustic conditions for long periods of time. This difficult operating environment presented logistical challenges, and Mission Aviation Fellowship supported MAG by ensuring that necessary casualty evacuation requirements could be met and that teams were able to function as efficiently as possible when in the field.

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Deminers in the desert of Chad.

A lack of security was, at times, a limiting factor in MAG's operations, although every effort was made to ensure that local populations were aware of MAG's work and clear about its purpose. Indeed, in Tibesti, the local populations and authorities welcomed MAG's teams and were very supportive of the activities in the province.

An additional consideration was the high turnover of important management staff at the High Commission for National Demining, set up as part of Chad's commitment to meeting the obligations of the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention.3 This challenge made MAG's efforts to build the capacity of the national authority difficult, though MAG maintained excellent relationships with a number of key personnel within the HCND and made every effort to provide practical help and guidance to the HCND wherever possible. MAG was also fortunate to have continued support from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in N'Djamena throughout the course of the project. This close collaboration ensured that the project met its objectives.

The Future

Having achieved its objectives ahead of time and under budget, MAG closed the project at the end of January 2007. MAG's expansion of activities into the Tibesti province represented the first time an international nongovernmental organization worked in the province and was well-received by the communities in the area. It has enabled MAG to build a more detailed picture of the high levels of contamination in and around Zouarke. By December 2006, MAG had identified 84 dangerous areas in the region, highlighting the importance of continuing clearance activities to reduce the threat to local and migrant communities and to make a significant contribution to the peace and stability of the region. Bullet

Biography

HeadshotKatharine Hopper is a Regional Desk Officer with the Mines Advisory Group and oversees a number of country programmes in Africa, including, until early 2007, Chad. Prior to joining MAG, Hopper worked in Afghanistan for a medical organisation after graduating from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London with a master's degree in development studies.

Endnotes

  1. The Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad (MDJC) was a guerrilla movement dedicated to ousting Chadian President Idriss Deby. It has been disbanded since the signing of the 2003 peace accord and the death of Yousouff Togoimi, the founder and leader. For more information, see "The Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad (MDJC)." MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Database.http://www.tkb.org/Group.jsp?groupID=3629. Accessed 26 November 2007.
  2. For more information each of these munitions, see the Mine Action Information Center's "Munitions Reference." Available at http://www.jmu.edu/cisr/journal/supplemental/munitions/search.asp. Accessed 13 November 2007.
  3. Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, Oslo, Norway. 18 September 1997. http://www.icbl.org/treaty/text/english. Accessed 13 November 2007. The document was opened for signature in Ottawa, Canada, 3 December 1997, and thus is commonly known as the Ottawa Convention.

Contact Information

Katharine Hopper
Regional Desk Officer
Mines Advisory Group
47 Newton Street
Manchester M1 1FT / UK
E-mail: Katharine.hopper@mag.org.uk