Humanitarian Mine Action: DRC aid workers trained in Denmark
New threats from types of munitions never seen before and in numbers increasing by the day are among the challenges that bring humanitarian mine action delegates from all over the world’s current and post-conflict zones to Skive in western Denmark.
Three women from Ukraine are among the 12 participants taking part in a training here - counting humanitarian aid workers coming from seven countries – who have in common specific skills that are critical to identify explosive ordnance risks, find safe solutions, and eventually help save civilian lives and livelihoods.
The olive-green rocket plowed its way through the ground surface, close to a factory building full of car window glass, and the shell is sticking halfway out at a 90-degree angle with its characteristic nozzles giving it away – around 30-40 cm visible evidence of what was fired off with the intention to scare, damage, injure, maim, or even kill – and now, randomly left at an industrial ground as an unexploded ordnance. Is there more than one? What type of rocket is it? Could it be safe to approach it? What can be done to remove and dispose of this explosive remnant of war?
These questions and many more were on the agenda for the 12 participants – seven of them from DRC operations – who attended the Explosive Ordnance Disposal, or EOD, training in Skive in western Denmark that are in line with the International Mine Action Standards - IMAS. The EOD IMAS Level 3 trainings are organised by DRC Danish Refugee Council and DCA Danish Church Aid in collaboration with experts from the Danish Defence using military facilities in Skive where the participants can use and handle explosive.
Building global EOD capacity
The five-week training that took place from 20 June to 22 July 2022 is the latest in a series of efforts to build EOD Level 3 capacity, and with DRC engagement since 2008. It is using real-life scenarios reflecting realities met around the world by teams involved in managing explosive remnants of war and related humanitarian mine action activities.
This time around, participants came from humanitarian missions in Colombia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, and South Sudan. All of them are engaged in operations in countries with complex mine action challenges and where needs for capacity to work with Explosive Ordnance Disposal is key to restore access to homes, farmland, and general infrastructure.
"We work to strengthen capacity within new and existing EOD teams – meaning those who work with Explosive Ordnance Disposal in humanitarian settings around the world. We train our own staff from DRC as well as delegates from other humanitarian organisations and mine action actors, to enable their skills and expertise to live up to international standards. During the five weeks they are here, we give the participants practical tools, theoretical understanding, and essential guidance to help them lead the way and perform their difficult tasks," tells Jørgen Norman Bach, a Senior Technical Advisor from DRC’s Humanitarian Disarmament and Peacebuilding sector.
DRC’s Jørgen Norman Back has worked with mine action for decades around the world where he has witnessed first-hand the dangers and devastating impacts of explosive remnants of war. Jørgen Norman Back is furthermore part of the core group of experts engaged in constantly revising, updating, and fine-tuning the EOD standards that are used in humanitarian mine action. These are the backbone of EOD operations and need to reflect the constantly shifting realities with new types of Explosive Ordnance that the teams will face once they return to duty.
Increasing needs for mine action capacity
Humanitarian Mine Action is a sector in DRC that has seen significant growth in recent years across post-conflict zones as well as regions affected by active warfare – including right now multiple areas of DRC operations, one of them being Ukraine.
Tetiana, a DRC Non-Technical Survey Team Leader is one of the three female mine action delegates from Ukraine who, along with the other participants, spent five weeks away from ongoing crises and mine action tasks in their respective duty stations - and in her case, a country affected by active fighting and regular discovery of new types of war remnants. She and other mine action staff in Ukraine already have years of experience – personal and professional – having worked with humanitarian mine action in east Ukraine where conflict since 2014 has contaminated vast stretches of land, primarily in Donbas, a region bordering the Russian Federation.
Displaced aid workers
Like millions of Ukrainians, Tetiana and the majority of more than 200 DRC colleagues operating out of eastern parts of the country, found herself among the people displaced since 24 February 2022. Being an experienced humanitarian aid worker committed to support people in need, she too was suddenly forced to flee home and seek safety and protection elsewhere – but she was able to continue her work throughout.
All 12 trainees from Skive have just returned home, nine of them now certified to guide EOD missions around the world where this is needed. For them all - and not least Tetiana and her two colleagues from Ukraine, who were among those who passed the exams - they travel back to daily lives where the training scenarios from Skive are again replaced by brutal reality and dire needs for their expertise to be translated into actual action.
Teaching civilians about risks from explosive ordnance
As Tetiana and her colleagues return to work, their new skills will complement other ongoing efforts carried out by DRC teams working with tasks related to humanitarian mine action. These include not least needs to raise the awareness and educate men, women, boy and girls at all ages and from all walks of life, in risk awareness and safe behavior around explosive ordnance. People need to learn about the dangers from unexploded ordnance if they live in areas of active fighting, and for those who have managed to escape, to know about the new threats once they are able to return to their areas of origin.
"My duties as a humanitarian aid worker and new skills from Skive are as meaningful to me as ever, says Tetiana. ‘It enables us to help here and now in Ukraine – and in the time to come when it will hopefully soon be possible to expand access to areas where land can be cleared, and we can help people return home to houses, playgrounds, schools, farmland and daily lives where the ground under their feet is again safe."