Since 2012, the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) has been hard at work in Afghanistan clearing priority minefields, clearing mines from combat areas and conducting non-technical investigations into suspected minefields. Darwaz-e Bala, a remote region in Badakhshan Province, is still contaminated by landmines. The Pamir Mountains that form the south-eastern part of the High Hindu Kush range cut this region off from the rest of Afghanistan. The towns and cities with administrative and financial offices are unfortunately on the other side of the mountain range, which is why the FSD is taking a cross-border approach by having offices in Tajikistan.
The weather conditions in the Darwaz-e Bala region make mine clearance activities difficult for several months, and the fact that there are limited ways of accessing the region complicates all kinds of external aid efforts too. On 27 February 2020, the situation worsened when Tajikistan closed its borders to Afghanistan. This put a stop to the FSD’s mine clearance activities, since the organisation’s operational headquarters are in Tajikistan and it runs its mine clearance projects in Afghanistan.
The team members held talks and negotiations with the authorities in both countries for several months. After a long wait, on 29 June, the FSD was cleared to send vehicles and equipment from its operational headquarters in Kalai-Khumb to the Darwaz-e Bala border post.
Major organisational operations have been implemented with a view to ensuring the best possible compliance with health and safety regulations so the Afghan mine clearance teams can resume their work. Vehicles and equipment were therefore completely disinfected. Staff were given masks, disinfectants and other hygiene items too.
Demining teams in Afghanistan have been trained to teach civilians how to protect themselves against the Covid-19 pandemic in their work. We have also developed a written Covid-19 staff guide, with general instructions on how to apply hygiene measures and adjust their behavior when they are in contact with local residents at work. All of these measures aim at the highest possible protection of our employees and the population with whom they are in contact. We have resumed mine operations in the Darwazbala district since mid-June. The inhabitants of this region are reassured that our deminers can finally work for their security again.