Today is International Day for Mine Awareness and employees of Denel’s specialist division, Mechem, look back on a job well done over more than 50 years of creating a safer world.
From humble beginnings as a Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) research and development facility, the organisation has grown to where it now is one of a handful of UN approved demining companies with hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of land and a similar number of road kilometres cleared of mines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW). This work has been done not only in Africa but also in countries such as Bosnia.
Demining and its associated activities are controlled by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) whose Administrator, former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, said: “Leftover bombs, landmines and other unexploded ordnance create a double tragedy for post conflict countries,” in her message for the day.
“These devices not only kill more than 3 600 people and maim tens of thousands people every year but they also prevent countries and communities from developing to their full potential, including by impacting on food security, access to farmland, social services, and clean water and roads.
“This Mine Action Day, however, my message is a positive one. Decades of support to mine affected countries by UNDP and many others is making countries safer and that is bringing direct benefits for poverty reduction too.”
She said 161 countries have to date signed the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention.
Many previously contaminated countries, like Uganda and Jordan have met most of their obligations under the Convention and are now considered free of mines. UNDP said continued programme support together with partner organisations is beginning to reap rewards in other countries as well.
The focus for this year’s International Demining Day, also known as Mine Action Day, is the role women have in this sphere of operations.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by landmines. They have different needs when it comes to education about risks and different challenges when they or a family member is killed or injured. Around the world, from Laos to Ethiopia, UNDP is helping train women as expert deminers.
Mechem has taken this to heart and one of its employees, Belinda Banda, is seen as the embodiment of the day’s slogan: Women in Mine Action – Both Halves of the Sky Deserve All The Earth.
It highlights the importance of the role women play in the drive to clear landmines and protect humanity against their indiscriminate effects. The campaign is about teaching people how to live safely in contaminated areas. It is also about assisting victims, the clearing of landmines and disposal of explosive ordinance. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for “greater measures to involve more women at higher levels in mine action”.
Banda agreed saying: “Women bring a different aspect to demining services because their maternal instincts also kick in when educating communities located around contaminated areas and even when taking care of victims”.
Among success reported by UNDP for last year are the clearing of over 15 250 square metres of land benefitting more than 25 000 people in Albania; the agency, working with mine clearance organisations, has cleared 66% of the total mine contaminated area in Lebanon, and clearance work by the Yemen Mine Action Centre allowed 162 000 people to return to their homes.
Mechem’s commitment goes to victims and survivors of mine explosions as well and its Afri-foot prosthetic foot is testimony to this.
It is cost effective, at about half the cost of a normal prosthetic foot, is robust and durable, non-corrosive, adjustable, easily maintained and has been modified to integrate into other existing prosthetic products.