1 March 1998 :
Questions from a number of participating schools went out to deminers in Afghanistan via the Schools Demining Schools project. The Programme Manager of the United Nations Mine Action Programme in Afghanistan, Ian Bullpitt, gathered answers to those questions from members of demining organizations that work closely with the United Nations.
Abdul Jamil (Abdul), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-05, 30 years old, 1 year experience
Ajab Khan (Ajab), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-01, 30 years old, 4 years experience
Khail-ud-Din (Khail), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-01, 27 years old, 2 years experience
Assadullah (Assad), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-02, 40 years old, 4 years experience
Mohammad Nawab (Mohd), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-01, 26 years old, 1 years experience
Lal Jan (Lal), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-04, 30 years old, 4 years experience
Mohad Naeem (Naeem), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-03, 30 years old, 4 years experience
Mohad Usman (Usman), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-15, 29 years old, 1 years experience
Abdul Jamil (Jamil), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-07, 46 years old, 2 years experience
Mohad Karim (Karim), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-05, 33 years old, 4 years experience
Eid Mohammad (Eid), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-06, 26 years old, 4 years experience
Zarwali, MCPA, Surveyor, Team 14, 27 years old, 1 years experience
A. Raqib (Raqib), Team Leader, MCPA, Team 14, 38 years old,4 years experience
Najibullah (Najib), Deminer, HALO Trust, Team 1
Ghulam Faroque (Ghulam), Deminer, HALO Trust, Team
Faizuddin (Faiz), Deminer, HALO Trust, Team
Ian Bullpitt (Ian), Programme Manager, United Nations, HQ
Are you scared when you do your job?
NAJIB: No, because we came across mines several times and we understood that if you are careful during mine clearance then you are exposed to very little danger. On the other hand, we believe in destiny written by God.
ABDUL: I am not scared when I am doing my job. We are working according to the strict safety procedures we learned in the courses. We are all like fully confident soldiers who are never scared of their enemy.
IAN: Most of the other deminers interviewed said they were not scared.
Do you often use dogs?
GHULAM: No, HALO [the demining organization Ghulam works for] does not have any Mine Dog Clearance. I personally believe that dogs are not very reliable and who can guarantee that a dog will not have a bad day and miss mines.
AJAB: Yes, we often use the dogs. MDC has experienced dog handlers with dogs and the dogs are working faster than manual teams. Once each area is double-checked by dogs, I just inspect those parts indicated by the dogs.
ZARWALI: Yes, we have dogs who sniff the ground to locate any explosive device. We use two dogs to check each piece of ground we go over. When a dog indicates a suspicious spot, we check that spot with our mine detectors.
IAN: The Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan has one of the largest and most successful mine dog programmes in the world. The Afghan Mine Dog Centre has almost 150 dogs who are specially trained to sniff for the explosives in mines. Each dog has to pass very strict tests before it is allowed out to work in the minefields. We use two dogs to check every square inch of ground - this ensures that the area is checked to accpeptable standards.
Do your families go and stay with you?
FAIZ: Yes, we have the privilege of working in Kabul. We work for six hours then we go home, rest and stay with our family. My colleagues in northern Afghanistan carry out remote demining in Kunduz, Chemtal, Salang, etc., therefore they work in cycles. More than 95% of HALO deminers are recruited locally and there is no requirement for food and accommodation for them.
KHAIL: We can not take our families with us due to the lack of basic necessities of life. Also we don't stay in one place - we are like nomads changing our accommodation after completion of each task.
ASSAD: Our work location is changeable therefore we can't take our families with us.
IAN: Most of the other deminers interviewed said they could not take their families if they are working away from their homes. Some 80-90% of our deminers have to work away from their houses - often 300-400 miles away. It is therefore very difficult for them to take their families even though they all said that they very much miss being away. Demining teams normally work for about 2 months away and then have 2 weeks at home.
Do you risk your life every day?
NAJIB: Well, in terms of mine clearance yes, but the system of very tight discipline that we have in HALO along with the visors and jackets and the mine detecting equipment and other safety procedures give us enough protection.
MOHD: Yes, it is a risky job where the first mistake could be the last mistake.
What do you think about when you are demining?
GHULAM: I think about safely finishing off my working day and safely going home with no accident.
ZARWALI: I think that I must use the prodder in the safest way to avoid a mine incident. I do think that if a mine blows up, it will cause injuries to my eyes, hands and chest.
RAQIB: I think if this mine blows up, then I will become disabled. But I am satisfied as I serve my people.
Are you specialised in particular kinds of mines?
FAIZ: Yes, I have seen and cleared more than 100 Russian PMN2 AP mines.
ZARWALI: Yes, especially in Russian-made mines.
IAN: Nearly all of our deminers are taught basic information about the 50+ different types of mines found in Afghanistan. Our current policy is to blow up the mines without removing them from the ground because it is usually quicker and safer. Some deminers also receive specialist training in how to defuse mines and bombs.
Is it possible to re-use mines?
LAL: It is possible, but it is a very bad and risky practice. We destroy the mines without removing them from the ground. In some cases, if the mine is near a school, mosque or other building, we have to remove the mine, rather than destroy it, using a safe method so that it does not destroy the building.
NAJIB: Not all mines but certainly more than 80% of mines that we find and destroy in situ can be re-used
NAEEM: It is a very risky practice because you do not know if the mine has been booby trapped or not.
ZARWALI: Yes, it is [possible], but very difficult and very very dangerous.
IAN: The Programme has a very strict policy of destroying all mines "in-situ" (where they are). This helps to prevent the possibility of people removing mines and using them elsewhere.
Are there many casualties?
GHULAM: Well, in 1997, thank God, we had no mine accidents in the south and in the north. But I witnessed a couple of mine accidents in Maidan Shar where some civilians were injured and evacuated by HALO ambulances to Karte Se hospital.
KARIM: We have only had one accident in our MDG - one of the deminers lost one leg when he was investigating (prodding) an anti personnel (PMN) mine.
ZARWALI: Not many for deminers, but there are about 10-20 casualties each day among the civilians in Afghanistan.
IAN: In 1997, there were almost 45 demining accidents in the Mine Action Programme for Afghnaistan. In most cases, these happened when deminers were not strictly following the rules and procedures correctly. Fortunately, good protective equipment (such as helmets with visors) has reduced the injuries. Unfortunately, some of our deminers still received serious injuries or even died. There are no specific figures on how many civilians are injured because most of the hospitals barely work. We estimate that maybe 5-10 people every day (150-300 per month) may still be having mine accidents.
Do your families agree with your choosing this job?
FAIZ: Initially they were not happy, but since I make money and I am
looking after an extended family and our living standard improved a lot they are now very happy. But they keep telling me to take great care while clearing mines.
USMAN: Not at all. I have to work as a deminer to support my family and
solve my family's economic problems. My family has therefore agreed to me doing such a risky job.
JAMIL: Yes, I am doing this risky job to make Afghanistan free and safe
What is a typical day for a deminer?
ZARWALI: My typical day starts with morning prayer. Then we have
breakfast and move to minefields. We work in a minefield for six hours and return to the base camp for lunch. In the afternoon, I play volleyball with my friends and in the evening prepare the daily activities report. I also
listen to the radio and study books in the evening.
IAN: Zarwali's answer is quite typical for most deminers. Most teams work
about 6 hours per day at the minefield (usually in the morning). During the
heat of summer, the teams might start as early as 4 or 5 AM to avoid the
extremely hot midday and afternoon heat. Deminers usually relax in the
aftrenoons - playing volleyball, reading or listening to the radio. Team
Leaders usually have to work in the afternoons preparing reports, preparing
plans for the next days or conducting mine awareness training for local
people in or near their camp.
Can you do this as a career or is it always a temporary job?
GHULAM: It depends on the situation in Afghanistan. You know before I
joined HALO I was a civil engineer and now I am a deminer. I really look forward to working again as a civil engineer or HALO can find me a job where I can be more useful and be closer to my speciality.
EID: Now this job is a career for me. I do not think of my job as a
temporary job because we learned the rules and methods of demining. I selected this field after attending the demining courses and know what the procedures are.
ZARWALI: I think I will do it as a career.
How much do you make per month?
FAIZ: A normal HALO deminer gets something like US$109. This is enough
for us for the moment. Our wages have been revised every three months and adjusted to the USD exchange rate.
KHAIL: I make about US$140.
JAMIL: I make about US$120.
ZARWALI: I make about US$135.
RAQIB: I make about US$226.
How are the sites to be demined chosen and by whom?
MOHD: The local people, local authorities, UN agencies and NGO's come with a request to RMAC. The RMAC refers the request to survey teams. The survey teams, with the support of mine dogs, first narrow down the area where possible and make a 2 meter safe line around the edge of the minefield for the clearance teams. The survey team also makes a map of the mine field. The survey team brings the map to RMAC who hands over the map to the Demining agencies who deploy their teams for clearance. We usually make our camps near the minefield.
IAN: Mohd has given a very good answer. In addition, the Mine Action Programme has established a set of priorities and rules to help us select the important or urgent work. This is very important as there are hundreds of minefields to be cleared which will take at least another 5-6 years. We have to make sure that we clear areas that are actually going to be used first. For example, if there is land that no-one ever uses (such as a useless piece of land in the middle of the desert), we would make this a very low priority and not clear this until last.
What are you particularly careful about?
ALL: We are very careful not to miss mines and to make sure that we dig the ground carefully and not expose ourselves and other people to any mines missed by us.
RAQIB: I am very much concerned about the safety of my team members.
Which tools/accessories do you use most?
NAJIB: We use our visor, jacket, mine detector, probe, and trowel very often, because we dig the ground in residential areas to the original level. We even found mines at a depth of 80 cm in Silo and Dewan Biegi.
ZARWALI: Mine detection dogs, Mine detector, Prodder, Helmet, explosives.
MOHD: Dogs, mine detector, prodders, helmets, mine markers, rope, binoculars, medical kit, ambulance, explosives, detonators.