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Field camps now a major part of Mechem business

Mechem is supplying field camps to the United Nations.Specialist de-mining company Mechem is providing field camp services to the United Nations, and this has become a big part of the company's business portfolio, being worth around R100 million a year.

Ashley Williams, General Manager of Mechem, said the camp business got going in 2009 when the United Nations moved into Mogadishu, Somalia. Since Mechem usually had to set up its own camps when deployed, the company has extensive experience in this area. As a result, Mechem established camps for the UN throughout Somalia and Williams said he is hoping to soon build a compound for UNICEF in Mogadishu. He said his company has also supplied camps to Sasol in Mozambique for work on the gas pipeline there.

Williams said the camp business is a new separate stream for the company under the Field Facility Services name. “If you stick just to landmines you can box yourself in,” he told defenceWeb, adding that Mechem is involving local industry in the camp and logistics business. The company supplies all field services, from chefs to mechanics. “It’s a big operation,” Williams pointed out.

Mechem does a lot of work for the United Nations and has just received a two year contract from the UN for ammunition management in Somalia and from 1 July is providing provide bomb disposal services to the African Union mission in Somalia (Amisom) for two years.

The United Nations is a major user of Mechem’s explosive remnants of war disposal services. Williams said this side of the business was going well, with work in Libya, Senegal, Western Sahara, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. The company is also doing de-mining work in Mozambique and Angola, mostly for government entities and other organisations rather than the United Nations. Mechem is destroying an average of a ton of explosives a day in Libya.

Williams told defenceWeb there are always challenges facing the explosive remnants of war (ERW) disposal industry, with the safety and security of people in post-conflict countries declining over the last few years. Williams said the civil war in South Sudan is affecting Mechem and has stopped its personnel from doing its normal work – it now mostly does emergency work. “The war has had an influence on all demining operations,” Williams said, and added that there is a strong possibility new mines will be laid in the conflict.

Another issue is funding, as United Nations funding is not growing in line with threats. “This is going to be a big problem going forward.”

“I’m worried about Africa,” said Williams, in light of the recent upsurge in conflict, especially in places like South Sudan. He said that the United Nations has now become a target and this is one of Mechem’s biggest challenges. He said that warring parties used to go out of their way to avoid UN personnel, but this is no longer the case. For instance, three Mechem employees in Somalia were killed in June last year during an al Shabaab attack while 12 of their employees in Senegal were kidnapped by rebels in May 2013.

Williams said that threats are changing and that roadside bombs are becoming more popular with terrorists and militants on the continent, although the threat from landmines is still there.

Mechem specialises in mine clearing, removing the explosive remnants of war (ERW), manufacturing mine protected vehicles (notably the Casspir NG2000) and mine clearing equipment, and providing canine training and services (for explosives and drug detection). Williams said some of the positive developments at Mechem have been the expansion of the field services business, ongoing work with the United Nations and the Casspir NG. The company sold 50 Casspirs last year and over 100 dogs and anticipates selling 50-100 Casspirs a year.

Another big component of Mechem’s business is training. Williams said the company had recently secured two lucrative training contracts which almost makes training a separate business stream on its own. “Training is something we’re quite excited about.”

Mechem is still the only African based de-mining company with United Nations accreditation and its weight in the industry was evidenced by it hosting the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) Technical Workshop last month, which saw 80 participants visit South Africa. This was the first time that the workshop was hosted outside of Switzerland since its inception in 2002. Denel worked in conjunction with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to host the GICHD workshop.