Maputo, 1 April 2011 – Doug only works in the mornings, with sun block on his ears and tail. He walks straight along a string like a small dog controlled by its handler in the cleared bush forest in the Southern Mozambique until he stops, and scratches at the ground. Doug has detected the location of a landmine with his nose.
Doug, like his 35 other trained rat-colleagues, works in demining in Gaza Province, just north of the capital of Maputo, in Mabalane, in a subsistence farming community of 6,000 inhabitants, with children, goats and cows walking in the vicinity. Dough will work also on the 4th of April, the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.
Doug is currently operational in the Limpopo corridor, a large area running parallel to the railway and road which connects Zimbabwe to Maputo harbor and further to South Africa. The corridor was one of three important transport ways for neighboring landlocked countries and was heavily mined during the Mozambican civil war that that ended 18 years ago.
Programme Manager Andrew Sully from APOPO, one of the humanitarian mine clearance organizations supported by UNDP Mozambique, says that the use of these African giant pouched rats with an excellent sense of smell is one of the most cost-effective mine detecting techniques.
“Naturally, rats cannot replace man power totally and the use of machines, but they significantly improve cost efficiency and clearance rates when used in conjunction with manual and mechanical demining. In 2010, we cleared almost 800,000 square metres with just 30 deminers, 36 Mine Detection Rats and 14 handlers, and we will improve on this in 2011.”
“It is a misconception that the rats are trained as Kamikaze to destroy the mines in the field. They are too light to set off a pressure-activated landmine. On the contrary, these animals are treated with great care in order to optimize their physical and mental condition. None of our rats has ever died as a result of landmine detection work”, explains Andrew Sully.
In the last year, APOPO found and destroyed more than 816 mines along the Limpopo Corridor. Aside from the corridor area, the rats have also worked in other parts of Gaza Province. The clearance plan aims to release all land within Gaza, by 2013 or earlier, for farming, cattle grazing or tourism investments, not to mention freeing the inhabitants from the threat of landmines.
UNDP Mozambique is supporting a wide range of mine action activities executed mainly by the government and its National Demining Institute together with three UNDP-funded humanitarian operators, Handicap International, APOPO and HALO Trust, working in the six most affected provinces.
Now, after studious district-by-district demining activities around the country, about half of the mined districts, mainly in Northern Mozambique, have already been declared free of mines. However, during the demining activities many areas were cancelled and new areas were found to have been contaminated. At present, among these areas, there are still 351 locations - 9,034,172 square metres - to be cleared. With flow of funds and accelerated demining actions, Mozambique could accomplish with the article 5 of the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty by 2014.
Mozambique has had both one of the world’s most severe challenge in adding mine contamination and one of the longest running responses to this challenge. UNDP has supported demining activities since the end of the 15-year civil war (1977-1992).
With the contributions from UNDP (Trac1 and UN Trust Fund), the governments of Japan and Italy, AusAID and DFID UNDP’s demining support to Mozambique in 2010 was worth some 6 million USD.