Demining in Gaza Province (APOPO) (2009)

Project: demining the province of Gaza in Mozambique 

Beneficiary: APOPO

Duration: 2009-2013

Budget: 1.200.000 euro

Each year, more than 15,000 people worldwide fall victim to anti-personnel mines. Most mines are found in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 15 years after the end of the Mozambican civil war, large parts of the territory are still unsafe due to the presence of land mines.

Mozambique signed the Mine Ban Treaty (Ottawa Treaty which bans anti-personnel mines) and is therefore obliged to be fully demined by 1 March 2014.

An efficient and adjusted solution needs to be found to the problem of land mines, since the traditional detection methods are often too expensive and inadequate.

APOPO carries out demining activities on the authority of the Mozambique Government (National Demining Institute of Mozambique). APOPO is an initiative of Belgian and Tanzanian researchers and was set up in 1998 as a non-profit making association. APOPO stands for "antipersoonsmijnen ontmijnende productontwikkeling" (Anti-Personnel Land Mines Detection Product Development) and has developed a remarkable detection technique. They use rats for the detection. These animals are known for their sharp noses and effectiveness. Moreover, they are cheap. The animals are trained according to the process of Pavlov's dog. They are conditioned as well, but they respond to the smell of TNT, the explosive substance of land mines, instead of to the sound of a bell, like Pavlov's dog. The technology is internationally recognised.

First, armoured vehicles remove the vegetation of the land to be demined. Then deminers demarcate safe paths. After that, the area is divided into blocks which the rats run across. In twenty minutes they search such a demarcated block and detect the land mines. A human needs about two days for this.

Since 2004, APOPO has a team of 53 people and 47 rats in Mozambique. All the animals have been tested in keeping with the requirements of the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS). The National Demining Institute has requested APOPO to take up responsibility for the demining of Gaza Province. A programme was put out to tender for clearing all the mines in this province by 2013. It concerns an overall surface area of nearly 3.8 million square metres. APOPO will do this at a cost price of 1.3 USD per square metre, which is significantly lower than the internationally accepted standard of 2 USD per square metre. Apart from detecting and clearing mines, APOPO will also apply the principles of land release. The purpose of land release is to avoid the use of expensive demining instruments in places where mines are unlikely to be found. Thanks to APOPO’s rapid and efficient method, the land can be returned to the local population in a relatively short term. In this way a safe living environment is created again in the rural areas of Gaza, with access to water and with agricultural opportunities.

In 2011, a surface area of 753,932 square metres was demined. The area was declared free of mines one year earlier than expected. From 2012 onwards, the rats will also be used in Angola, where assistance will be provided by a team from Mozambique.