THE CHALLENGES OF DEMINING IN THE JUNGLE

January 2020

Colombia, an earthly paradise of biodiversity, has been affected for more than five decades by an armed conflict which left behind numerous anti-personnel mines and other explosive devices. Today, demining the territory is hampered by certain obstacles and requires specific practices, respectful of its ecosystems. FSD assists the Colombian authorities in facing these challenges.

Located in the intertropical zone of the American continent, crossed by the Andes Cordillera and bounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Colombia is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of biodiversity, featuring snow-capped mountains, dry or humid forests, plains, Andean wetlands and even deserts. To date, more than 50,000 species have been identified in the country.

The challenge of demining in the jungle

The armed conflict that started in the 1960 has left scars on the Colombian territory: numerous anti-personnel mines and other explosive devices used by the government forces and the guerrillas still pollute the forests, threatening local communities as well as the Colombian fauna. In 2010, mine action NGOs began supporting the government in its mine clearance efforts, and received an official authorisation to do so three years later. In 2016, the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla group signed a peace agreement, which contributed to a change in the security conditions and allowed the establishment of good practices in humanitarian demining operations. A law was adopted with the aim of reducing the environmental impact of humanitarian demining operations throughout the national territory and particularly in areas of high ecological value benefiting from specific protection.

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For deminers, working in Colombia is challenging in many respects. Locating explosives in densely vegetated areas is not easy. Mine detection dogs can be a good solution but their training is long and expensive. Another difficulty is the variety of mines that were laid in Colombia: some are basic devices activated by simple pressure switch while other are more complex devices with electronic circuits, timers and remote controls. These latter cases require highly qualified operators rather than traditional deminers.

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Another factor that slows down mine clearance in Colombia is the ban on the use of commercial explosives to destroy explosive remnants of war. This is explained by the fact that the Colombian government fears they will be used for other purposes. Alternatives must therefore be found to destroy the mines, or the intervention of Colombia security or police forces must be sought.

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Since 2016, FSD has been implementing a capacity building program in Colombia, with the support of the United States Department of State. FSD provides strategic assistance and technical advice to the Colombian national mine action authority, which is part of the Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz. This assistance covers several areas such as the various methods of mine clearance, environmental standards, land release, mechanical clearance equipment, mine detection dogs and other mine related issues. FSD also organizes technical workshops and sets up computer platforms for the dissemination of data and information on mine action.

Despite the many obstacles that Colombia faces in mine action, FSD is confident that the country will eventually be mine-free in the upcoming years. In the meantime, FSD experts will continue providing technical advice on policies and standards to best guide the Colombian authorities in matters related to mine action.