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by JJ Scott, MAIC
After centuries of domination by several autonomous and constantly warring
kingdoms, the land that would eventually make up the nation of Chad was
subjugated by France in the 1890s. The French colonized Chad only
half-heartedly, using it primarily as a source of raw materials and
unskilled labor, never bothering to institute any unifying or modernizing
policies. Chad gained its independence from France in 1960 but immediately
became ensnared in a morass of ethnic warfare. Like so many other
post-independence African nations, internal strife—sporadically punctuated
by outside incursions—delayed all national development programs for
decades. In Chad, a 1975 military coup and several invasions by Libya
retarded progress until 1990, when a tentative and unstable peace was
finally achieved. Since then, the government has come to terms with most
rebel groups, settled the Libyan border dispute, drafted a new, democratic
constitution and held presidential and National Assembly elections.
Unfortunately, most power remains in the hands of a northern ethnic
oligarchy whose followers instigated a new rebellion in 1998, damaging any
hopes for the national development and improved living conditions that
only lasting peace can bring.
Chad is a comparatively low-profile country in the mine action community.
The National Mine Action Center (HCND) is one of the few in existence that
did not form as an extension of a United Nations peacekeeping mission. The
30 years of conflicts in Chad never drew international attention, leaving
most potentially helpful donor nations almost completely ignorant of the
Chadian landmine situation, which is, nonetheless, quite serious. A Level
1 Impact Survey was recently completed, revealing that an estimated one
million landmines and a few hundred thousand pieces of UXO currently
affect almost 200 communities, primarily in northern Chad. Reports
indicate that most minefields are a mix of AT and AP mines; up to a third
of these mines may be booby-trapped.
Operating in one of the poorest nations in the world, the HCND does not
have the funds to conduct reliable or comprehensive surveys of landmine
victims. No yearly casualty data is available; no attempt has even been
made at estimating how many Chadian citizens have been killed or injured
by landmines. To compound the problems facing statisticians in Chad, a
sizable nomadic population roams the northern half of the country. Most
casualties that occur among these wanderers probably go unreported, as
nomads do not frequent hospitals and are not readily available to
surveyors. One must take these challenges into account when ascertaining
the reliability of the latest casualty numbers to come out of Chad:
approximately 300 mine- and UXO-related casualties in the last two years.
No matter how close this is to the reality of the casualty situation in
Chad, there is no question that landmines are a significant problem,
adversely affecting the nation’s socio-economic situation.
The HCND relies heavily on donor support to fund its activities, receiving
aid mainly from the United States, the United Nations Development Program
(UNDP), Japan, Great Britain and Italy. Most funds procured thus far have
been spent on establishing infrastructure, developing long-term mine
action plans, training deminers and carrying out a Level 1 Impact Survey.
The German organization HELP is the only group currently carrying out
demining operations in Chad. To date, they have destroyed 1,150 mines,
17,000 pieces of UXO and four tons of small-caliber munitions, returning
1.2 million square meters of land back to productive use. They have found
that most mines in Chad are laid chaotically, a demining challenge that
has been compounded by extremely limited access to minefield maps.
France’s apathetic view towards Chad during the colonial period,
combined with 30 years of post-independence warfare, has yielded a
nation-state that exists more certainly and solidly on paper than in
reality. Even when viewed within the context of sub-Saharan Africa, the
absolute poverty and lack of development in Chad is astonishing. Public
services are nonexistent throughout most of the country and are
inconsistent and unreliable where they do exist. There is only one
hospital to serve the entire northern portion of the country, requiring
many who need medical care to journey several days for treatment.
Attempting to uphold the pillars of mine action within such a
disorganized, unfortunate country has proven to be a challenge, to say the
least. Meeting that challenge is the goal of the mine action practitioners
currently operating in the forgotten nation of Chad.
Lt. Col. Mohamoud Adam Becher
High Committee for National Demining
PO Box 3179