Issue 6.1, April 2002
By Bob Kudyba, United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea Mine Action Coordination Center
On May 13 1998, Ethiopia’s Parliament declared war on Eritrea. After the
1998 fighting failed to achieve any clear advantage to either side, the
Ethiopians and Eritreans fell into a trench warfare situation reminiscent of
World War I. In order to reinforce this system of trench lines, extensive
patterns of mines—both AT and AP—were laid to strengthen and reinforce the
positions. As one side gained advantage and took control of a trench system,
mines were laid on the opposite side, creating a confusing array of defense
systems. Shelling of targets by artillery and bombing attacks by aircraft
contributed to the problem with UXO littering the battlefields. In fact,
some estimates say that UXO outweigh the problem of mines 15:1.
The MACC will have the following responsibilities:
The MACC will establish mine action priorities to serve both operational needs of the peacekeeping force within the TSZ and wider humanitarian needs both inside and outside the TSZ. Based on these priorities, the MACC will use available mine action assets including UN peacekeeping, NGOs, and commercial and government assets, in order to conduct mine action with an emphasis on:
NGOs in Eritrea
The program has also been supported by three International Staff members
from MineTech, a commercial company, who are acting as Technical Supervisors
in support of three EDA national teams.
Danish Demining Group (DDG)
Mines Awareness Trust
Mine/UXO Clearance Operations
Clearance activities have centered on the TSZ, primarily in the Western and Central Sectors. Priority is given to clearing areas where there is a confirmed landmine and UXO threat that impacts the local population or potential refugee population.
Large areas of the TSZ were surveyed by the HALO Trust. A comprehensive National Landmine Impact Survey will be undertaken in 2002. This will permit an extensive review of dangerous areas and the allocation of resources, including MRE programs and mine victim support activities. This will be extensively supported by the Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA) database.
Mine contamination is extensive, and most common mine types have been encountered within the region. The UXO contamination problem, while not unique, is responsible for a great percentage of accidents, particularly with teenage males, who are attracted to the shape and color of UXO and investigate objects out of boredom or curiosity.
A recent spate of incidents caused by deeply buried AT mine is a reason for concern and has led to the MACC working actively with the UNMEE force and related agencies in a concerted attempt to defeat the menace.
Training and National Capacity Building
With the arrival of additional international personnel, a training development plan has been mapped out, which focuses on building national capacity. Basic demining and team leader courses have been successfully completed, with Train-the-Trainer and Technical Survey courses to follow shortly. The focus of Train-the-Trainer courses will be to provide a core of national training cadre to staff the proposed National Training Center, which is to be designed and constructed at Asha Golgol, outside Asmara.
This training center will be responsible for all national demining training activities and will be managed under direction of the Eritrean Mine Action Program (EMAP). The focus of this project is to build a sustainable national capacity for all demining activities in Eritrea.
EOD/UXO Problem and Solution
Eritrea has a serious UXO contamination problem; some 200,000—250,000 mines and three million pieces of UXO are said to be present in Eritrea. Older sources estimate between 500,000 and one million landmines. Either way, the amount of UXO littering Eritrea outnumbers the landmines by at best 3:1 and at worst 15:1. Perhaps as many as three million pieces of UXO remain at large in Eritrea. The majority of women and children killed or injured in Eritrea as a result of the debris of war in recent times have been struck down by UXO and not by landmines.
The range of UXO types encountered in Eritrea varies, although, as in most conflict environments, the vast majority are comprised of the smaller weapons of war such as grenades (including an array of rocket-propelled grenades), mortars and artillery projectiles. There are significant numbers of other items, ranging from cluster munitions and large airdropped bombs to projectile carriers and rockets. To date there have been no reports of chemical or biological weapons being discovered, and the booby trap threat remains low.
The majority of explosive ordnance is of American or Russian origin, but items of UXO are encountered from other countries such as Italy, Yugoslavia and China. The historical range of UXO in Eritrea is wide, including items left over from World War II as well as the more recent debris from the 30-year struggle. The majority of the UXO contamination is in the TSZ, but other historical battle sites (such as Nakfa and Keren in the north of the country and Massawa on the east coast) remain a threat.
Currently, there are insufficient EOD assets to cope with the UXO problem in time to ensure the security of returning IDP and refugees. This is not only due to the deficiency of appropriately trained personnel, but also to the geographical scale of the problem that leads to poor response times for EOD incidents.
However, a 12-month EOD development plan has been developed to provide EOD trained personnel at all levels. The indigenous EOD capacity will be capable of planning, coordinating, conducting and monitoring EOD operations independently of international supervision. Another move is afoot to provide direct EOD support to Mine Awareness Education (MAE) teams working in those areas most at risk.
MAE teams are placed ideally to collect information on the whereabouts of UXO and, in many instances, are presented with the problem directly by the people they are working with. By providing direct EOD support, the UXO problem can be handled most efficiently, ensuring the safety of the MAE teams and the local population, which rapidly reduces the contamination problem and builds confidence within the community.
The QA department of the UNMEE MACC currently consists of a Chief of QA with two International Supervisors and three National QA Inspectors. These are divided into a headquarter element and two field teams. The aim of the QA department is to develop national capacities to assume responsibility for these functions in the future.
The QA department performs a number of roles and is tasked with accreditation, licensing, monitoring and conducting investigations. The responsibilities are achieved by implementing a comprehensive accreditation and licensing process based on the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) as well as other mine action program documentation, from which the QA department has developed National Technical and Safety Standards (TSS). The TSS are fundamentals that all agencies and NGO have to follow in order to receive accreditation and licensing before working in the mission area.
Once the accreditation and licensing process is completed, the QA department shifts its attention to the field monitoring of the agency by performing a QA site inspection at each work site of the agency at least once a month. This is supplemented by unannounced visits. The QA visit/inspection consists of evaluating and compiling a report on the particular site as well as conducting samplings in accordance with the TSS. The site manager signs a copy of the report, and a copy is left with him. The original report is forwarded to the Chief of QA who compiles all the reports on a monthly basis with a cover letter and forwards them to the respective agencies for action.
The QA approach being implemented in Eritrea is effective at this early stage of the program; the numbers of non-compliance are generally low, and to date there have been no demining-related accidents.
One of the mandates of the MACC is to provide mine action information to UNMEE, other UN agencies, NGOs and mine action agencies working in Eritrea. This includes the collection, processing and dissemination of all mine-related information.
The primary tool in the management of mine action information is the IMSMA database. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) and the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) in Switzerland have developed the IMSMA software. It is currently installed in 22 countries worldwide and serves as a perfect tool to implement IMAS standards through software among other functions.
Among the complimentary data of MACC is a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) with various digital maps of the scale 1:1,000,000 to 1:100,000 from different sources. This is operated through Arcview software. Additional small databases to support IMSMA have been developed in-house on the basis of MS Access or have been adapted from external sources. They maintain information about mine risk education, field questionnaire results, administrative data, etc.
All IMSMA, GIS and relational database data is stored physically in the computer system of MACC, which consists of a series of networked PCs operating on Windows 2000. The main features, which are collected through standard IMSMA forms by mine action agencies, the Eritrean Defence Force and individuals consist of:
This data is mainly displayed and printed in the form of maps (in A3 to A0 format). Most of them are requested with a 1:100,000 topographic background, which is derived either from scanned image maps (raster files) or from vectorized maps (shape files).
Attention is given to full transparency of the system, which includes documentation, user guidelines (manuals), a metadata bank, and the following assumption about conventions and information system standards: "If a system is not transparent and well documented, it will not contain information, but just data."
The databases of the MACC are considered as part of a service function to users for optimal provision and coordination of mine action. There is an "open data" policy at the MACC that encourages the release of information to anybody who can make appropriate use of the information and resources. The section currently handles some 15-30 requests for maps and reports per week.
The following additional activities are planned to enhance the information system at MACC in 2002:
Mine Risk Education Strategy for Eritrea
Starting in 1994, limited MRE activities in Eritrea were conducted in the context of the Eritrean Humanitarian Demining Program (EHDP). These were subsequently suspended in 1998 due to the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
After the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and the establishment of the TSZ in 2000, UNHCR, with the technical support of UNICEF and the Eritrean Demining Agency (EDA), resumed MRE efforts in the form of emergency activities in the regions of Tessenei and Gash Barka. These activities were mainly concerned with the returning refugees and IDPs.
Since 2000, UNICEF, whose mandate under the UN mine action policy is to assume responsibility for MAE activities, has been mobilizing the necessary financial and human resources to conduct and ensure immediate and long-term MRE programs in Eritrea.
In collaboration with the UNMEE MACC, EMAP and EDA, UNICEF first launched critical emergency awareness activities in high-risk areas of Gash Barka and Debub. In the meantime, UNICEF has assigned a full-time mine awareness coordinator to the UNMEE MACC to ensure a strong and long-term integration of MRE with all other ongoing mine action activities in Eritrea.
The UNICEF MRE Coordinator assists EMAP, EDA, UNMEE MACC, government ministries, UN agencies and NGOs in developing a comprehensive and well-integrated MRE program. This program aims to address the emergency and longer-term MRE needs of high-risk communities throughout Eritrea. In this context, EMAP, in cooperation with UNICEF and UNMEE MACC, has already established an inter-agency MRE working group, which consists of UN agencies, national and international government ministries, agencies and NGOs, as well as mine clearance organizations. The group meets monthly in Asmara. A similar working group has been established on a regional level. This group also meets regularly. In August 2001, UNICEF sponsored an inter-agency MRE workshop in Asmara to review emergency MRE activities in Eritrea and to identify key aspects of longer-term MRE strategy for Eritrea, emphasizing improved implementation, capacity building, coordination, monitoring and evaluation.
These early efforts, driven by UNICEF, have led to the formal development of a long-term MRE strategy for Eritrea. This official MRE strategy supports the overall UN mine action strategy for Eritrea. Based on the MRE needs identified by UNICEF in its early stages of involvement in Eritrea, several goals and objectives have been established for Eritrea’s long-term planning of MRE operations.
The main goal of the Eritrean MRE program is to reduce the number of mine/UXO-related accidents and incidents among high-risk populations in the TSZ and adjacent areas through a comprehensive, well-integrated and multifaceted MRE program. The Eritrean MRE program aims at institutional and local capacity building, MRE community facilitator’s training, coordination and reporting mechanism establishment and the MAE integration into mine action and other humanitarian sectors.
The following is a list of the program’s specific objectives:
The author would like to acknowledge his fellow colleagues at the MACC. In particular, he would like to thank the EOD/Training Officer, The Chief of QA and the Chief of MRE, who assisted in the drafting of their respective areas of expertise. He would also like to thank the Chief of Information, who assembled the final product and did a lot of work on the presentation. Finally, he would like to acknowledge other useful MACC source documents that were not attributed to a specific author, which helped provide a background on the landmine problem in Eritrea.
*All photos courtesy of UN/DPI