Mechem demining teams lifted more than 23 000 landmines over an eight-month period on Turkey’s eastern border – a task regarded as one of the most significant achievements yet in the field of humanitarian demining.
Each of the potentially deadly devices was detected and removed by hand at a rate of more than 200 a day. Since demining operations started in 2016 there has not been a single fatal or serious injury to any team member, Denel said in a statement today.
Zwelakhe Ntshepe, Acting Group Chief Executive Officer of Denel called it “a major achievement confirming Mechem’s reputation as a world leader in creating a safer world”.
“The number of landmines removed is unprecedented in global terms. Such targets have previously only been achieved in areas where large stockpiles were destroyed and not where mines have to be detected and physically taken out of the ground.”
Mechem is a business unit of Denel Land Systems and has been responsible for demining operations in Mozambique, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa as well as in Afghanistan.
The Mechem team in Turkey numbers about 160, all specialists in manual lifting of the unexploded devices. Their success was achieved despite Mechem not allowed to use some of the most potent equipment in its demining toolbox – mine detection dogs and its Minewolf flail machine.
The Turkish contract is part of global efforts to clear anti-personnel mines from Turkey’s eastern border with Iran. Many of the mines were placed there more than 50 years ago to prevent cross-border smuggling but current instabilities in the region, aggravated by the flow of refugees from the civil war in Syria, heightened the need for professional demining. The work is further complicated by very few accurate records on where mines were planted.
Mechem arrived in Turkey in mid-2016 and cleared about 9 000 landmines in the first four months of operations. Extreme weather conditions during the Turkish winter make clearing impossible for up to four months a year.
Since returning to Turkey in May deminers removed the deadly devices at a rate of about 200 per working day. By the end of August, a total of 23 000 landmines was lifted and rendered harmless.
“The significance of Mechem’s work has to be evaluated against the death and destruction caused by landmines and explosive devices in conflict and post-conflict zones across the world,” Ntshepe said. In most cases civilian populations are the primary target especially in areas where displaced people and refugees are fleeing hostilities.
“We have removed 23 000 potentially lethal landmines from our planet,” he said.
In terms of global statistics these devices could have killed at least 2 300 people and close on 21 000 could have lost a limb, destined to spend the rest of their lives on crutches.
“The Mechem team in Turkey are true ambassadors for South Africa saving lives in difficult and dangerous conditions. South Africa can be proud of the achievements of these brave men and women,” Ntshepe said.
According to Denel’s 2016/17 annual report, Mechem also cleared large tracts of land and roads of mines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) through various demining or ERW clearing projects in several African countries.
Mechem utilises a range of technologies, services and products in the ERW clearance applications that include manual demining, battle area clearance, stockpile destruction and explosive ordnance disposal, vehicle-mounted demining, mechanical demining, landmine surveys, range clearance, quality assurance and victim assistance.