HI clearance team in Lebanon | © D.Ligneau / HI
The Lebanese authorities officially hand over lands cleared by HI to residents in Northern Lebanon on December 8. Head of the HI clearance operations, Mohamad Kaakour, explains HI’s work.
How many demining experts have been in action recently?
We had a very large team in action for these operations. There were three mine clearance teams: 39 people comprising 24 deminers with supervisors, paramedics, a team leader, etc.
What kinds of explosive engines were found?
Mainly landmines. In ten years, we found 6,132 items: 5,615 landmines, 22 antitank mines and 495 unexploded ordnances such as mortars, projectiles, fuses and detonators. We used to find mines every day. The areas we cleared were really heavily contaminated. HI was the only organization working in the North of Lebanon, and the first organisation to start clearance since the civil war ended in 1990 - except the Lebanese army who started some clearing tasks beforehand.
How do we proceed when we find a mine or an unexploded ordnance? Do we detonate it on-site or collect it for later destruction?
All the mines destroyed by HI are done on-site, but unexploded ordnances and explosive remnants are destroyed by the Lebanon Mine Action Center (LMAC), who only allow us to inspect and dispose of it for later destruction.
Where were our clearance operations?
Since 2011, HI has been clearing mines in the North Lebanon Directorate. Over ten years, we have cleared almost 1 million square meters. HI’s latest clearance activities were conducted in three districts of the North: Batroun, Koura and Bcharre districts in about 18 villages. Our latest tasks, which began in June 2021, were in the Hadath El Jebbeh cedars reserve (Bcharre district) and Tannourine village (Batroun district).
How would you say that demining in Lebanon is different from other countries? What is the specificity of this context?
Most of the minefields are located in forests and mountains. They are not flat, open areas like in other countries. The vegetation is dense and needs to be cut before the land can be investigated. It is very steep land and the mineral ground where detectors cannot be used. Deminers must use full excavation techniques. Otherwise, HI works according to seasonal shifts: low altitude minefields are cleared during winter (November to April) where snow covers high altitude mountains, and during summer, we shift to high altitude minefields.
How do we organise and return land to residents?
Once HI has completed clearance, the handover process is the Lebanon Mine Action Center’s (LMAC) responsibility. We file a completion report and send it to LMAC for validation. LMAC then takes on the handover responsibility and releases the land to the local population.
What is the benefit for the people?
All the villages are now free of mines. Around 35,000 people have benefitted from the released lands and villages. Most of them work in agriculture and invest in olive and apple trees.
We also cleared cedar reserves in the famous Hadath El Jebbeh and Tannourine reserves, which allows people to now visit these sites and enhance touristic activities.
Were clearance operations impacted by the current economic crisis?
The clearance activities were not directly impacted, however, we are facing a lot of difficulties in getting fuel for vehicles and generators to ensure the wellbeing of the staff after working hours (staff are accommodated by HI at an HI base). By ensuring a source of power, staff has access to lighting in their rooms and fans at night, when the temperature and humidity are high. It is important to have a minimum level of comfort for a such stressful job.
Where will we work in 2022?
Next January we will start clearance operations in the Aley District in Mount Lebanon Directorate. So far, our operations will last until end of 2022 but we are likely to continue after. Lebanon plans to be mine free in 2030.