Demining in LibyaCivilians across Libya face a unique challenge in their daily lives: avoiding landmines. Both the United States and the European Union remain committed to building a safe community for Libyan civilians by working with groups pursuing demining in Libya.

How We Got Here

Libya is a coastal city in northern Africa. The Government of Libyan National Unity (GNU) was established in March 2021 and a group led by warlord Khalifa Haftar controls the country politically. States surrounding Libya began independently supporting the two competing groups, with countries such as Egypt supporting Hafter and Turkey supporting the GNU. Another power that joined in aiding Haftar is Russia and a Russian organization called the Wagner Group.

Currently, the Wagner Group continues to occupy and influence parts of Libya, especially in the east. It continues to assist the Libyan National Army (LNA) under Haftar despite the ongoing war that Russia faces in Ukraine.

In 2020, the Wagner Group withdrew from Tripoli, the capital of the country located along the coast in western Libya. According to several sources, the organization left landmines in the area in the process of withdrawing, leaving Libyan civilians in a dangerous situation. The remaining landmines resulted in more than 300 innocent deaths or injuries in the past two years.

Through partnerships with the United States, European Union and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the present dangers mobilized communities in Libya to come together and address the issue.

Communities Unite – Free Fields Foundation (3F)

Present dangers in Libya include landmines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and unexploded ordnance (UXO). Not only are these weapons remaining from the Wagner Group in the ongoing Libyan civil war, but there are still weapons from wars dating back to World War II. Three organizations that specialize in demining in Libya receive funding from the United States and represent a significant impact in eliminating the risk of more than 60,000 explosives in the last 11 years.

The European Union similarly coordinates three demining projects with several organizations including 3F, also known as Free Fields Foundation. Rabie al-Jawashi started 3F in 2012 in Tripoli. The organization now has 60 working members and received accreditation from the Libyan Mine Action Center. Rabie’s organization primarily focuses on areas near the coast and is making a large impact on the safety of families returning home after the war. In a mere eight months in 2020, 3F destroyed over 1,050 explosives in their focus area.

Many success stories arose from the Free Fields Foundation since its establishment. One example is the case of Saud Abdel Rahman and his family located in Sirte, Libya. After seeking refuge in a neighboring city during the war, Rahman’s family returned to find their farm in ruins. After seeing phone numbers for 3F on local billboards, Rahman contacted the organization, which removed landmines from his farm. This allowed the family to continue farming. Rahman also noted that his children personally experienced mine safety education in their school, thus illustrating the real-world impact that 3F creates.

A Safer Future

Apart from demining field work, 3F also works to educate Libyan civilians on mine safety. Members of the organization inform families on the correct steps to take if families locate explosives and collaborate with regional groups to instruct children in local schools.

The United States government also strives to inform civilians on the proper contacts and risk prevention to safely eliminate explosive risks. Further, the United States promotes the GNU’s humanitarian and economic development endeavors by offering support to the Libyan government.

With landmine education and renewed funding from the United States, European Union and other critical partnerships, demining in Libya continues to embody a community effort for the safety of Libyan civilians.

Kaylee Messick
Photo: Flickr

Demining Zimbabwe's National ParkLocated in southeast Zimbabwe, Gonarezhou National Park is home to 11,000 African elephants, which is how it earned its name as the “Place of Elephants.” Unfortunately, it is also the site of thousands of buried landmines. These landmines were placed by the Rhodesian army during Zimbabwe’s Liberation War and have remained there for more than 40 years. Although there have been efforts to remove these mines, they continue to be a constant threat to the people of Zimbabwe and local wildlife. Demining Zimbabwe’s national park will have several benefits for the country.

APOPO: Demining Efforts

The United States has provided a grant of $750,000 to the nonprofit APOPO to demine the Sengwe Wildlife Corridor, where a large portion of the undetonated landmines reside. The Sengwe Wildlife Corridor covers a stretch of land that connects the park to South Africa and is used regularly by migrating elephants.

The area that APOPO has been designated to work is one of the largest in the world: 37 kilometers lengthwise and 75 kilometers in width. With almost 6,000 landmines per kilometer, communities in the surrounding area are unable to access potential land for farming and endangered species are at constant risk.

The presence of the minefield prevents the elephant population of the park from migrating and potentially mixing with other elephant populations. This presents a long-term risk of limiting the already shrinking African elephant gene pool.

APOPO has established a five-year plan for demining Zimbabwe’s national park, expecting to remove all undetonated landmines from the area by 2025. It estimates that it will remove more than 15,000 landmines before the end of its operation in the corridor.

The nonprofit will be working in tandem with the Gonarezhou Conservation Trust to maintain that the process will not impede conservation goals for the park.

The project also complements USAID programs to support community-based natural resource management, provide climate-smart agricultural technologies and improve the value chain for communities to sell their products for a fair market price.

Poverty in Zimbabwe and COVID-19

Zimbabwe is currently facing severe economic hardships that have only worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, 50% of Zimbabweans experienced food insecurity and 40% faced extreme poverty. This number is projected to increase as conditions worsen with the onset of the pandemic and severe droughts. Inflation in the country has been rampant, with prices of food increasing by 725%, resulting in a severe loss of purchasing power for the poor. The pandemic has impacted the already economically challenged country by decreasing trade and tourism.

Aiding Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe

The United States and APOPO hope that by clearing out the Sengwe Wildlife Corridor, ecotourism in Zimbabwe will begin to thrive. As it stands currently, only 8,000 tourists on average visit Gonarezhou National Park compared to the 1.8 million tourists that visit the neighboring Kruger National Park of South Africa. Demining Zimbabwe’s national park means providing an extended opportunity for increased tourism in the struggling country. The efforts of APOPO, with the support of the United States, may be able to help economic recovery, reduce the impact of the pandemic and uplift communities that are battling poverty.

-Christopher McLean
Photo: Flickr