One Step Beyond – Afghanistan – Mine Clearance
We accompany a team from the mine clearance organisation OMAR (Organisation for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation) to their workplace: a hill south of Kabul. What strikes us most is the tremendous silence these people work in – which is accentuated by the silence of the desert itself. The most important rule here is: never hurry anything – that is absolutely vital. Even in the case of an accident, the rescue operation must be carried out carefully, precisely and quietly.
The minefield is marked by red flags and two rows of stones. Red-painted stones signify there are mines beyond, white-painted stones indicate the cleared area. The minefield size is about 15 hectares. During the Soviet Union's occupation it was used to protect a Russian position south of Kabul. In this minefield a total of 44 people have been injured over the past ten years – 7 fatally.
For the mine clearance, the site is divided into strips of one meter in width. With a minimum safety distance between them, each man – in heavy blue safety clothing – works down a strip, using his vision and the aid of a metal detector. The mine clearers can hardly take a step here without their detectors sounding: the former battleground is infested with casings and metal fragments. Wherever a metal detector goes off, the spot is marked by a red piece of wood. Then the mine clearer kneels on the ground and, with a long knife, draws a circle in a radius of 25cm into the earth around the suspicious spot. Until it has been cleared, uncertainty remains: either a mine has been discovered, or, as in most cases, simply a bullet-casing or fragments of a shell. Throughout the clearing process, an overseer makes sure that he keeps a safety distance of 50 meters between himself and the nearest mine clearer. If anything should happen, this distance will ensure the quickest possible rescue.
November 4th, 2002. On this day, the mine clearers have made five discoveries: five mines have been meticulously localized, their types and models ascertained, and all five defused. Large boulders painted white identify the cleared areas.
While we photograph the mine clearers at work, we hear an explosion in a nearby valley. I ask whether that valley is also being cleared. "No," the man tells us, "but that was definitely a mine. A goat or a nomad must have stepped on it..."
It is said that as far as mine clearing work in Afghanistan goes, this area is the least risky.
It's estimated that it will take between 10-20 years to clear all of Afghanistan's minefields.
It's thought that there are around 13 million landmines in Afghanistan.