Landmines in Eritrea - socioeconomic consequences

By Kurt Hanevik

Landmine injuries in Eritrea

Socio-economic consequences

Time did not allow me to go much into the large and difficult subject regarding the wider effect landmines has on the Eritrean society and economy. However I was able to identify at least three areas where landmines pose a problem other than the immediate medical consequences. These areas include the problems of monitoring and dealing with grasshopper (Locus) outbreaks, unusable pasture land and road safety especially in northern and western parts of Eritrea.

Locust control
The Desert Locust is the most internationally known insect pest. It is one of the oldest man enemies ever since he began to grow crops. Locust attack a wide range of crops, trees and range lands, competing in the very food that man needs for his existence. It has great mobility i.e. 150-200 kilometers per day, they cover large invasion areas, and have an amazing ability to build up and multiply to colossal numbers. They eat their own weight of fresh food per day. Under warm sunny conditions adults form swarms which may be up to 100 square km in extent and rise up to 1000 - 1500 meters above the ground.

An outbreak is marked by an increase in the numbers of locust as a result of concentration, multiplication, and gregarization. It is during these periods, which are called Plagues that locusts cause great damage to crops.
The interval between plagues are called Recession and during this period the number of locust is small and they are scattered. However widespread and abundant rainfall over several successive seasonal breeding areas can cause a plague to build up. Scattered populations concentrate, multiply and gregarize (become able to fly) very rapidly under these conducive conditions. If these events is not timely detected and promptly controlled a plague will result.
When a plague is established it usually takes 4 - 5 years to contain. It is estimated that the Desert Locust unless checked can potentially damage the food of 10% of the worlds population.

Breeding area in Eritrea
East Africa contain some of the main breeding areas for Desert Locust. In Eritrea there are breeding areas for the Desert Locust varying with season and weather. Eritrea therefore is a member of the Desert Locust Control Organization - East Africa (DLCO-EA). This organization was founded in 1962 to control the outbreaks mainly of Desert Locust, but also of various other insect pests as Army worm (Spodoptera exempta), Quelea quelea, and Tsetse fly.

Mines inhibit effective monitoring
Jonas Debezai, the leader of the Eritrean branch of DLCO-EA, could tell me they had problems in monitoring the sandy plains in the north-east of the country. The reason was fear for mines. To monitor effectively the growth stage and number of Desert Locust in an area one is dependent upon ground inspections.
Mr. Jonas was happy to tell me there had been no landmine accidents in DLCO operations so far, but he explained this by the safety measures they had taken and that there had been no major outbreak over the last years.
However he expressed fear for the problems mines would pose if there came to a major outbreak. Ineffective monitoring would inhibit effective control measures as ground and air pesticide . "The mines must be cleared", was his ending remark.

Livestock and pastures
In the Ministry of Agriculture I had a meeting with Haile Awalom, Head of planning program. He explained that compared with the draught and flood problems they had experienced the last years mines become a minor problem. The problem was worst the first two years after liberation in 1991.

No statistics
Though not he, nor anyone else could give me any numbers, there were many animals and farmers killed or injured in this period. Fertile land is not much affected. It is rather a problem occurring in livestock pastures and for areas where people collect wood. Typically mine incidents occur to shepherds and wood collectors.
Mr. Haile could tell about pasture land being overgrown with nice green grass, due to shepherds avoiding it, because of mines. He could tell about an incident close to

Areza, a former stronghold in the war, where a farmer had gone into such a field too cut the grass to feed his oxen, resulting in a lost leg for the farmer. Another incident Mr. Haile remembered very well was a veterinarian who 3 years ago lost both his legs while he was vaccinating cow during an outbreak of rinderpest.

As refugees return they will only be given safe land, so Mr. Haile did not think that mines would be a problem in refugee repatriation. However this only apply for those returning with the governmental programs. Others might come back to find their land being mined.
There is no system of compensation from the state in cases of livestock losses due to mines. Nor does it exist any estimates of such losses. "Mines is an obstacle for us, but not a major one", says Haile Awalom.

I had a short telephone discussion with an engineer at the Ministry of Construction asking about road safety and clearing. The engineer explained that all main roads now were cleared, but that if I wanted to take smaller roads or drive in the terrain I should talk to local authorities and get a guide. He could also tell me that mines posed problem in road repairs in northern Sahel. Several other persons also pointed out minor roads in northeastern Eritrea to be uncleared and dangerous.
In a small notice in a February 95 issue of "Eritrean Profile" one can read that the 230 km Afabet-Karora road is now cleared. No one I talked to could give me more information about this operation.

In December 94 the Norwegian Save the Children lost a car and a driver while doing some work in a refugee repatriation in Mehemet, northern Sahel. A bus with 39

passengers drove on a mine close to Ailet the 2nd of September 1993. Three adults and two children were killed immediately and could not be identified. Two adults died later because of injuries. 31 persons were treated for smaller injuries. This road was formerly declared free from mines. Authorities suspected that an anti tank mine could have been washed onto the road by heavy rainfall.

During the last year new anti tank mines have been places in eastern Eritrea by muslim fundamentalist guerrilla. Especially the road from Tesseney to Sawa, a current military training center. Smaller ambushes have also taken place along this road. A major incident happened on this road in late autumn 94 when a military truck transporting soldiers drove on a mine. One soldier survived.

The remaining landmines might scare away tourists from Eritrea. I was told about an Australian pilot who lost a leg last year during his holiday in Eritrea. He wanted to take some photos along the road to Massawa, and went a little away from the road where he stepped on a mine. Tourist guides to Eritrea mention the mine problem and advise tourists to be careful. It seemed like tourist authorities expected tourists who want to go outside main roads to hire guides. However, many foreigners drove around without.

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