My visit to MAG’s program in Lebanon was an eye-opening experience and another demonstration of the hard work MAG deminers undertake day in, day out—often in difficult and tiring conditions.
I have worked for MAG for almost 9 years and visited many other programs across Africa and Asia, but I have never seen clearance conditions as difficult and challenging as what I saw in southern Lebanon. MAG is the only demining and unexploded ordnance (UXO) clearance organization in Lebanon to have mechanical assets and since the Lebanese countryside is so mountainous and rocky, MAG is often tasked with the most challenging tasks.
Most people would already call landmine or UXO clearance a dangerous or extreme job, but what I saw in Lebanon can only be described as extreme UXO clearance. The terrain in large areas of southern Lebanon is very hilly and steep, with deep valleys, rocky slopes and rock-strewn summits. The cluster bombing of southern Lebanon in the 2006 conflict left vast areas littered with UXO in valleys and on slopes. Although some items may be lodged in areas too steep to use for farming, the UXO may get dislodged by rain or landslides, making them a threat to the families nearby.
The MAG Lebanon program has developed creative clearance techniques to clear these challenging areas. Safety ropes and ladders are now common additions to the team tool kits and clearance methodologies have been adapted to incorporate rappelling. Never before have I seen slopes so steep that deminers and searchers have to use ladders to access the lower slopes and use safety ropes to clear the upper slopes. This is extreme clearance and makes a challenging job even more strenuous. When MAG completes its work, the valley will be used for agriculture and the slopes and summit for grazing sheep and goats, as well as quarrying for construction.
The Lebanese Mine Action Centre (LMAC) anticipates that clearance of cluster munition contamination will be complete by 2016 and clearance of all landmine contamination by 2020. The goal is in sight and almost within reach for Lebanon, but the job is not completed and danger remains. Continued commitment and support from the international community is essential to ensuring that Lebanon is free of the impact of landmines and UXO by 2020.
This blog was written by Jamie Franklin works in MAG America as the representatiave from HQ. Jamie has worked as Country Director in Sudan and Cambodia and in the program in Laos.