South Sudan is working to remove landmines left over from many years of conflict. But the process is slow and is preventing some people who fled the country from returning to their homes.
Jacob Wani is one of the people affected. The 45-year-old farmer recently decided to return to South Sudan for the first time since fleeing the country’s civil war eight years ago.
Wani told The Associated Press he was excited to return home so he could start rebuilding his life. But when he tried to return to his land in Eastern Equatorial state, he was banned. Wani was told he could not enter the property. He said the land had been declared dangerous because of landmines.
“My area is dangerous,” Wani told reporters from the AP. He is currently living in his shop in the village of Moli, a few kilometers from his farm. “I do not have the capacity to rebuild in this place and I am also afraid (of explosives). If I go, maybe something can hurt me."
Warring sides signed a peace deal in 2018 to end a five-year civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people and displaced millions. Many people seeking to return to the country are finding that areas around their homes are filled with mines buried during many years of conflict.
The United Nations’ Mine Action Service said that since 2004, landmines or other military explosives have killed or injured more than 5,000 South Sudanese.
South Sudan has a goal to clear all unexploded ammunition and minefields by 2026. But experts think that goal will likely not be met as dangerous weapons and landmines are being found across the country each day.
More than 84 million square meters of unexploded ammunition and mines have been cleared over the past 20 years, the Mine Action Service said. However, 10 people were killed in March after they mistakenly played with a grenade, a small bomb, in a rural village in Western Bahr el Ghazal state.
“The contamination is too huge,” said Jurkuch Barach Jurkuch, chairperson for South Sudan’s National Mine Action Authority. He told the AP the clearing efforts are being hurt by a lack of money, continued insecurity, and flooding during the rainy season.
Eastern Equatorial state is along the border with Uganda. The state is South Sudan's most heavily contaminated area. Years of war with northern Sudan hit the area before it gained independence in 2011.
By the end of 2021, the state had the most areas with unexploded ammunition in the country, the organization Mine Action Review found. At the same time, U.N. officials said 115,000 people have returned to Eastern Equatorial state since the peace agreement.
During a visit to the area in May, families told the AP they had their food assistance cut by 50 percent in refugee camps in Uganda. This pushed them to come back home. But many are returning to conflict-damaged villages, with little food, shelter or open schools. In some communities, more than half of the area is contaminated, locals said.
“Whenever there is a landmine, there is a danger. So, everybody fears to go cultivate and do activities…because of fear of landmines,” said Sebit Kilama, a community leader.
Private contractors and aid groups are continuing to clear the area from contamination, but they say the job is very difficult.
During one clearance operation in May, the aid group MAG found 16 unexploded devices in less than one week of work. Locals have also said they are finding dangerous military equipment near main roads.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
capacity – n. the largest amount or number that a container, building, etc. can hold
contaminate – v. to make something dirty or poisonous
cultivate – v. to prepare land and grow crops on it
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