in South Sudan
Landmines and other explosive hazards, like cluster munitions, are a lethal legacy from South Sudan’s devastating civil wars, which spanned more than half a century.
Clearing these items saves lives, lifts the population from a cycle of poverty – and brings much needed security to the country.
G4S’s Ordnance Management company specialises in this painstaking and dangerous work and has a 500-strong operation in South Sudan spread across various locations.
Before any clearance begins, each team will carry out a series of surveys to gain a better understanding of the items they might come across or where they might be located. This includes examining historical data and news reports, interviewing community members and carrying out a detailed visual review of the area.
Expertly trained South Sudanese Deminers will then be given allocated lanes so they are safely spaced out. Moving slowly and wearing protective equipment, they search the ground in their lane, foot by foot, using specialised VMR 3G mine detectors – highly sensitive but reliable equipment capable of locating minimum metal anti-tank mines (deliberately made with a small amount of metal so they are harder to detect).
If an explosive hazard is located and confirmed, the item is excavated and marked for destruction. The Team Leader then assesses the threat and the best way to get rid of it: destroying it in situ or placing it aside for disposal at a later date if it’s a mine.
Before any demolition takes place, the team moves to a designated area and ensures community members and livestock are at a safe distance too.
Recruitment and training
To ensure people have the necessary resilience for the job, most Ordnance Management employees are made up of former service members and trained in explosive ordnance disposal.
As well as the obvious mental demands of the job, the physical side can be equally gruelling – high temperatures, armed robbery, malaria, tough terrain, snakes and scorpions are all part of the course.
Teams also need to be self-sufficient as they will often have to travel to remote locations, which can take days to get to in 4 x 4 vehicles, where they will typically be based for two or more months.
So that continually high standards are maintained, all staff are required to undergo training and accreditation. First, they complete the G4S OM country specific management training and, on completion, are required to undergo and pass an accreditation with the current client. Another prerequisite is that they must have worked in South Sudan for at least five years to ensure they have a good understanding of the terrain, history and social and cultural nuances.
A number of team members are also drawn from the local workforce, like Beatrice Gale John (pictured). She joined G4S in 2013 as a Cleaner before moving on to become a Cook and is now an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Specialist undertaking her first assignment in the busy town of Bunj, Maban County.
This location poses a number of challenges for the team with hazards lying close to homes, markets and schools.
She says: “I chose to work as a Deminer to keep my community safe, feed and educate my children, and support my extended family.”
Malakal Protection of Civilians camp
Another team is currently clearing unexploded ordnance from land surrounding the Malakal Protection of Civilians (PoC) Camp in Upper Nile State, to accommodate an additional 15,000 people fleeing fighting in the region.
Malakal is one of six similar camps across the country, originally constructed during the 2013-2018 civil war when millions of people became internally displaced. These camps were supposed to provide a short-term safe haven under the protection of the United Nations, however due to continued violence they have become long-term homes for many.
Community Liaison Officers from G4S have also delivered specialised presentations to those living in the camp on how to safely live alongside ordnance until it is reported and removed. Using games and pictures, these lessons cover what mines and other hazards look like, what to do if a suspected item is found and locations to avoid.
A billion square metres of land released
Since 2006, G4S has cleared a billion m2 of land in South Sudan in support of UNMAS activities. This includes key roads, arable land and infrastructure, which in turn has been released back to communities by the National Mine Action Authority (NMAA).
It can then be used for agriculture to grow the staples of maize or sorghum, with communities selling off the excess. Similarly, development aid or medical care can be delivered when roads are clear.
G4S has also removed over 8,226 cluster munitions, 10,381 anti-personnel mines and 1,273 anti-tank mines. When this tally is combined with unexploded ordnance and small arms ammunition disposed of, they have safely removed and destroyed 237,996 explosive hazards from South Sudan.
Philip Hill, Managing Director of G4S’s Ordnance Management company, said: “This is difficult work but provides immense value to the people and communities we support. Not only are we and our partners at UNMAS helping to save lives, we are improving communities and opening up trade routes which is essential for a country that is still trying to recover from the turmoil of civil war.
“Once our team finishes on the PoC task they will be tasked elsewhere in Upper Nile State. Other teams are continuing with similarly important tasks including clearance of five primary schools in South Sudan’s second capital city, Wau, paving the way for education in that area.
“Whilst the work is dangerous by nature, the safety of our staff and civilians in the surrounding areas will always be our number one concern – and we have an exceptional safety record in this space that we are immensely proud of.”