Sudan’s Expensive Landmines


Sudan is an extremely difficult place to run a demining program.  Mine clearance agencies face astronomical prices of goods and services, monumental logistical challenges, bureaucratic impediments from government, fraught labor disputes and a deeply embedded political economy of conflict.  This multitude of problems has made Sudan one of the most unproductive demining programs, in terms of ordnance or area cleared per US dollar, in the world. This begs the question whether the level of international investment in Sudanese mine action is truly worth it. This paper will argue that in terms of saving lives or increasing access to socio-economic development, much of the money pouring into Sudanese mine action might be better spent in other severely mine-impacted countries.

However, other considerations make such a cost-benefit calculation more complicated. There may be a genuine argument for pouring funding into Sudan for the political reasons of supporting the peace between the North and South. The political, economic and social dividends from demining (including increased freedom of movement, return of displaced people and a reduction in perceptions of insecurity) may justify some of the high financial and other costs.  That said, donors should not deceive themselves about the limits to mine action’s ability play the role of a midwife of peace.

Following field research in Khartoum, Juba and Yei last year, I wrote this evaluation of issues in Sudanese demining.

~ by Matthew Bolton on 29 July 2008.

8 Responses to “Sudan’s Expensive Landmines”

  1. The cost of demining in Sudan is high, but costs tend to be very substantially higher than even Sudan in some other countries. One example is the Peru-Ecuador border where estimates of total cost of clearance are somewhere around 200 US dollars per square metre, according to the reporting associated with the EC funding for clearance in this region. Like many Latin American countries, demining in the region is a monopoly of military forces, and is usually run through OAS programmes. The OAS typically uses well over 50% of the total budget for “administration and supervision.”

  2. Comments on the abstract:

    The mine action programme in Sudan for the last 5 years has not been about the quantity of mines or UXO cleared or even about the amount of land cleared/released it has been about:

    • removing the inhibitors to a an effective peace keeping mission (effectiveness is for it to be both cost effective and deliver against the security council mandate that created UNMIS),
    • delivery of a real and tangible peace dividend
    • removing the inhibitors to the cost effective distribution of aid,
    • the neutralization of both actual and perceived risk to international/national agencies, organizations and individuals presented by ERW (including mines and UXO)
    • the reduction of the residual problem to a level where a national capacity can take ownership
    • developing and engaging the national authorities to take ownership of the residual problem

    With these in mind the abstract fails to touch on any of the issues above and as such fails to understand the strategic vision of the programme and what a lot of people and donors have been working towards.

    A cost benefit calculation for a programme as complicated and political as the Sudan one is never going to be simple but if it can not be done properly with a full understanding of all of the implications of the investments made is only speculative and should be considered as such.

    Comments on the introduction:

    “has made Sudan one of the most unproductive demining programmes in terms of ordnance or area cleared per US$ in the world” this may be true but is irrelevant for most of the actors currently operating in Sudan. Please see the strategic objectives above to understand what is important and what the money spent in Sudan has been about. These figures are only relevant for organizations’ that still think the cost of clearing a mine or per sqm has any relevance in today’s mine action community, and what donors are actually interested in funding. The reality on the ground is now very different, on most programmes especially in Sudan, where from a very early date it was realized the actual and perceived mine problems were poles apart. So that to be able to achieve the objectives listed above a different approach, very much a coordinated approach with all actors engaged would be needed.

    But as cost per mine and per sqm have been raised this is irrelevant and to try address the point in way most people can understand these simply lie in the bad old days of lies, dam lies and statistics, the cost of clearing a mine or a sqm of land in Afghanistan or Angola today has no comparison to the cost of clearing one in Cambodia, Bosnia or Sudan its like trying to say how much is a piece of coal in South Africa compared to one in China and one in New York.

    Actually ongoing survey efforts in Sudan are confirming that mine and UXO contamination is as low and possibly lower than expected again since early 2005 when the peace accord was signed and access to larger areas of Sudan became possible it was always extremely obvious the mine problem had been previously overstated, since then the effort has always been directed at expectation and perception management. It is why Sudan was the first programme to ask for the LIS to show as safe any community that was completely clear of a threat as green (on the map) as soon as these results were gathered and confirmed. The message to donors has always been the glass is half full not half empty and the problem is nowhere near as big as expected. Again the mine action programme outwith a couple of notable exceptions has always been about dealing with the perceived problem and the management of the associated risk.

    The author has failed to complete his research into how assessed budget funding works or even obtained a particularly comprehensive understanding of how bilateral funding works from donors when targeted at a country or region rather than a sector. Firstly a large percentage of funding for demining in Sudan and almost all of the coordination costs are funded out of the assessed budget for the peace keeping mission in Sudan and Darfur UNMIS/UNMID this budget has to be submitted to the 5th committee and the ACABQ and if it passes these hurdles it then has to be approved by the general assembly. These funds are then exclusively available for peace keeping operations in Sudan. If they were/are not used for mine action and coordination of mine action in Sudan (in support of the mandate) and in accordance with the mandated activities then these funds would either be utilized by other areas of UNMIS/UNMID or returned to the member states. None of these funds would be available for mine action in other countries. The same is the case for a large percentage of funds from bilateral donors these are funds that have been specifically allocated to Sudan and the competition is between sectors these funds if not used for mine action would be used for other humanitarian assistance in Sudan but would not be available for use in other mine effected countries. It could be argued that greater benefit to the people of Sudan would have been gained from these funds if used for other humanitarian priorities – without a Chrystal ball this is always easy to say but hard to prove! Very little of the funds used in Sudan were or are from “mine action” earmarked funds and the majority that are, are being utilized by NGO’s who have provided their own justification to their own donors to do so (as did HALO and LMA while in there were operational in Sudan). In the case of the Sudan a very clear decision was made once it was obvious that Sudan was capable of mobilizing adequate resources not to use “un-earmarked” funds for Sudan and wherever possible divert mine action funds to other programmes with less success in resource mobilization or greater need (or both).

    Comments on the Perceptions vs Reality of Mine Risk:

    The author states there have been 3,700 mine casualties but in reality this is a statistic that could be extremely accurate or inaccurate, like most of the other statistics used in this document it fails to take into account that in large parts of Sudan information is almost none existent. For example standing on a mine or detonating a UXO is almost certainly a death sentence due to lack of medical facilities, distance to be traveled and poor infrastructure, it is impossible to know how many people have been injured and died in the bush in the last 20 years, it is also almost impossible due to the way the data has been gathered in Sudan to establish if the casualties were mine or UXO casualties obviously equally tragic for the person injured but extremely relevant when trying to establish the size, nature and perceived threat on the ground! The use of unproven statistics in mine action has long been the bane of the industry and the author perpetuates this throughout his document, the highlight is of course the comparison between road accidents in 1986 and mine casualties in 2005 (talk about comparing apples with oranges!).

    The use of the mine threat map was as much to track progress as to give a clear picture of the actual threat on the ground. The map was initially meant for briefing to UN agencies and due to the risk adverse nature of the UN it was an advisory so that UN personnel did not inadvertently drive down unsafe roads. It was never meant as a definitive threat assessment of roads in Sudan and was very much a living document. It is certainly not meant to be utilized by a “lay person” without consolation with the local UNMAO office or Mine Action NGO to plan routes or missions. The use of the term “no evidence of mines” was a way to quickly open up roads that were being utilized but there were insufficient assets to clear completely .i.e. a survey capacity following an agreed methodology were able to very quickly release large numbers of roads to be utilized by humanitarian actors. It has always been understood that in the dry season it was pretty much possible to get to anywhere in Sudan with a decent vehicle and a positive attitude however this is not the case in the wet season and some guideline to overcome the preconceptions and perception that every road in Sudan was mined and needed to be cleared had to be implemented. In no area was this proven to work more than in Darfur where in November 2004 after a mine strike all roads were declared unsafe by DSS and out of bounds to UN agencies by applying a solid methodology and effective assets the UNMAO with its implementing partner FSD was able to declare nearly every road in Darfur open in less than 6 months saving millions (possibly hundreds of millions) of dollars in air charter costs. The term subverting the system implies that people are breaking rules or cheating in fact the whole point of the road threat map was to give people information so when utilized in conjunction with advice from the local mine action office and the local DSS team that judgments could be made on whether to use a road or not in light of the know and perceived risks and the priority of the missions/journey.

    I disagree with your quote “sometimes inflated by the mine action community” – without the name of the donor or the author of the report it is hard to see what factual basis this quote can be used.

    Again the author goes on about the route threat map as though it is the only source of information on the actual or perceived mine problem in Sudan it is just one of many tools available to interested parties and is only as accurate as the information available at the time it was printed. The whole point of the LIS was to establish that the mine problem in Sudan is significantly lower than expected and to show which communities are NOT effected by mine/uxo, as much if not more so than those that are. This both allows the world the see the glass is half full not half empty and to show that there is an end in sight and that Sudan does not need to be a Afghanistan, Cambodia or Angola where there is no obvious end to the end for large scale humanitarian mine action intervention. Few people and I would hope none who actually know the situation on the ground in Afghanistan would ever compare the threat from mines in Sudan to that of parts of Afghanistan although if you were somebody who used to traverse “mile 40” to sell good from Uganda in Juba or one of the resettled people living on/in the mine belt on the edge of Malakal you might want to dispute the risks they were/are facing. The comparison of road accidents in 1986 to mine casualties in 2005 has no bearing on whether a project in 2008/09 should be funded and should be ignored.

    There is a failure by many people not just the author in the belief that overestimating the level of mine risk automatically results in increased funding this is simply not the case and often has the opposite effect, it might be good for public fundraising but today’s donors are significantly more sophisticated, complex and educated than they were when mine action hit the headlines in the early 90’s. Today’s donors want to see results, they want to see well organized, well planned and well coordinated programmes that deliver results. This is what the Sudan programme has done, that is why they continue to fund it and when data like that created by the LIS or the emergency survey in Darfur shows that the problem is lower than expected and with a well managed response can be further reduced or completely mitigated then they become engaged further and provide additional resources. The greatest peace dividend in Southern Sudan has been the opening of the roads with resulting decrease in costs of goods, access to markets, increased distribution of aid and freer movement of people this has probably done more “to decrease perceptions of fear and insecurity” than anything else simply the author has got it 180 degrees wrong as he has in so many other parts of his document.

    Comments on para c to f:

    I actually have better things to do now than continue to expose the mistakes and factual inaccuracies that are strewn across this document but simply put if you look at the outlined objectives at the start of my response and where the mine action programme in Sudan is today (a success story with millions of dollars of donor money now being employed on aid rather than transportation costs) rather than the tales of doom and gloom and wasted resources that this document tries to highlight (having apparently been written against a title rather than creating the title at the end of the research) it is a great shame that some of the NGO’s that had the potential to achieve so much in Sudan failed to do so but this is primarily as a result of a failure to fully appreciate the difficulties of working in the Sudanese environment and trying to impose a unsuitable template from other mine effected countries, other NGO’s and mine action actors have achieved a great deal and will continue to do so as long as adequate and appropriate levels of resources are made available. This document does little to reward those efforts and successes and is negative self serving propaganda.

    Comments on para g recommendations :

    Other than having an opinion as a basis for your recommendations you might as well add “always sleep under a mosquito net”, “get a good nights sleep before a long drive” and “don’t eat yellow snow”

  3. […] For more on the Sudanese mine action program, see my report “Sudan’s Expensive Landmines… […]

  4. Capacity building and sustainability, which is the basic goal of capacity building, eventually comes down to good management and the availability of funds. Although sovereignty carries a lot of weight in the right to determine priorities if the governments of north and south Sudan are unhappy with their roles in mine action they should use more of their oil revenues and buy into ownership and take control. However, there is no solid evidence they are unhappy with their inferior roles. Let the international community pay seems to be the plan. However, considering the amount of money they are earning from oil revenues it seems they could greatly increase the amount they allocate to mine action. Less than $25-75 million out of $3.57 billion in 2009 revenues is not a lot of money for Sudan. Angola, which recently surpassed Nigeria and is producing nearly 1.9 million barrels of oil per day and they are aiming to increase this to 2.4 million over the next 5 years, could do the same. Donors should not be asked to re-allocate funds to oil rich countries like Angola, instead donors should be demanding Angola and Sudan to contribute more. In fact, Angola is so rich they could fund part or all of some mine action programmes in Africa such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, the DRC and Mozambique. If Angola and Sudan are unwilling to contribute more to their own mine action programmes , (it is unacceptable to say they cannot) they then forfeit the right of complaining about international input and their own lack of input.

  5. the national teams (JIDUs) within two years cleared more than milion squre metres with a cost less than 10% of un agency cost.

  6. Sudan methodology in Land Release for SHAS is introduce the role of militry in Mine Action Clearance In sudan ,the NMAA make up 3+3 data collection team , three from Sudan Arm Forces and three from SPLA who they are part of the conflicts in the area of Babanosa – Wao railway track , within two weeks the team surveyed 446 kilometres and brought a map of a pin – points for mines &ERWs , which allow the Joint Integrated Demining Units (JIDUs) cleared the railway track between Babanosa – Wao in the Southern region in three months only, and by fifth cost estimated by UNOPs as World Bank reqest.for more informations please contact,

  7. […] friend of Political Minefields — even opening HALO’s archives to assist with the “Sudan’s Expensive Landmines” report.  Political Minefields wishes him a hearty […]

  8. […] in Sudan has often been used as a fundraising strategy — to learn more, read the “Sudan’s Expensive Landmines” […]

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