Accidents involving landmines and other explosive ordnance have taken on increasing proportions since April 2021, particularly in the west of the Central African Republic (CAR), a region where conflict has intensified.
An alarming rise
Between January and August 2022, eight people, all civilians, were killed and 63 injured, of which 40 civilians, in 41 accidents and incidents involving explosive devices. In 2021, 44 such accidents were recorded, killing 30 people, including 23 civilians, and injuring 48, including 30 civilians. The number of accidents recorded as of 1 september 2022 represent 93 per cent accidents recorded in 2021, and both years show a significant increase compared to the year 2020, when two incidents with no casualties were registered.
Civilians are the main victims of explosive devices in CAR. In total, 81 per cent of those killed and 76 per cent of those injured since 2021 were civilians. The most affected region is the west of the country (51 per cent) of all incidents and accidents took place, although an increasing number of accidents have also been registered in the country’s centre in 2022.
On 4 April, anti-personnel mines were discovered for the first time in CAR. The population found them and reported them to the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and the peacekeeping mission MINUSCA, which destroyed the devices before they could harm someone. Anti-personnel landmines are prohibited under the Mine Ban Convention, which entered into force for CAR in 2003.
In mid-March, a truck contracted by a United Nations agency to transport construction materials from Bocaranga to Bozoum to build a secondary school hit an anti-tank mine near Ngoutéré, 40 km from Bocaranga. Two people were killed, two injured and the truck was severely damaged. The same truck had hit another mine in the same area in December, injuring one person. The school construction project has since been halted because construction material cannot be delivered, risking the school drop out of 600 pupils. In the same region of Ngoutéré, humanitarian partners cannot reach 1,800 vulnerable people with food assistance and cannot support four health facilities and 12 schools due to the lack of access.
The victims are diverse: a family, children, farmers, a humanitarian worker, merchants, armed elements, UN peacekeepers and a priest. Explosive devices that detonate by the presence, proximity or contact of a person cannot distinguish between civilians and combatants, raising important concerns about the principles of distinction and proportionality under international humanitarian law.
In July 2020, the suspected use of anti-vehicle mines was first reported in the country since the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSCA was established in 2014. One of the suspected devices damaged a MINUSCA tank near the border with Cameroon. After a relative calm between July 2020 and April 2021, the problem has taken on dangerous dimensions with serious consequences for civilians and humanitarian access.
Restricting humanitarian access and socioeconomic activities
The suspected presence of explosive devices severely limits humanitarian access to vulnerable people in a context already marked by access restrictions due to armed conflict and physical access constraints.
At least 30,000 vulnerable people are cut off from humanitarian assistance in western CAR due to the threat of landmines and other explosive devices. Humanitarian partners in Paoua, Bouar and Bocaranga are forced to restrict their movements due to the increasing threat of these devices. In December 2021, humanitarian organisations temporarily suspended their movements throughout the north-west (north of Bocaranga and west of Paoua), as well as west of Berbérati. The absence of humanitarian aid increases people’s vulnerability and exposes them to malaria and waterborne diseases. For example, most of the water points on the Niem-Yelewa-Sabéwa axis are out of order due to lack of maintenance. According to the Humanitarian Needs Overview 2022, the regions affected by explosive devices are also among those with the most severe humanitarian needs. Several axes in the Nana-Mambéré, Mambéré-Kadéï and Ouham-Pendé Prefectures have been considered high-risk due to the suspected presence of explosive devices and remain impassable for humanitarian workers and civilians, notably between Gamboula and Amadagaza. The same applies to the Yelewa-Sabéwa axis, which has remained inaccessible since January 2021. Towns and villages in the areas where explosive devices are suspected risk to be cut off from food and other supplies, trade, security patrols and humanitarian assistance. Explosive ordnance also limits people’s access to fields during this time of planting, places of work and income and essential services such as health care and education.
Emergency assistance by air
Circumventing access restrictions, between June and October 2021, OCHA and humanitarian partners delivered relief supplies by helicopter to Nguia-Bouar, Ngaoundaye, Ndim and Gbambia in Nana-Mambéré, Mambéré-Kadei and Ouham-Pendé. More than 4.5 tons of medicine, nutritional supplements, hygiene products, education kits and food reached about 56,000 vulnerable people, including more than 4,000 internally displaced people, to satisfy the most urgent needs and replenish local health centers.
Following clearance operations of explosive devices by MINUSCA, an OCHA and UNHCR convoy delivered more than 80 tonnes of food and 555 kits with essential household items to more than 1,500 host families and displaced people near Bocaranga, Ndim and Koui in early February 2022.
Protecting civilians and humanitarian workers
Humanity & Inclusion (HI), an NGO funded by the CAR Humanitarian Fund, raises awareness of the danger of explosive devices among the most vulnerable people in the area of Bocaranga (Ouham-Pendé Prefecture), one of the most affected regions in the country, and teaches them safe behavior to reduce the risks they face. Education sessions in villages between June and November 2022 will target 3,150 people, including 1,800 children. Special attention will be paid to include people with disabilities, women, girls and the elderly, and language barriers and illiteracy will be addressed, for example by adapting awareness raising material and methods, to ensure that all people have access to life-saving information on explosive devices. In addition, HI will train 40 humanitarian workers in Ouham-Pendé on explosive ordnance risk education.
In 2021, UNMAS reached 7,085 people, including 4,310 children, with an awareness campaign on the threat of explosive ordnance in Bouar, Berbérati, Paoua and Boali. Awareness signs were erected at strategic locations and drawings and photographs showed the precautions to take to avoid explosive devices, how to mark them and report them to the organizations responsible for their destruction. UNMAS also organized explosive ordnance awareness sessions for more than 1,500 humanitarian and UN staff in 2021.
Despite ongoing awareness campaigns, there is still a significant need to further strengthen risk education given the scale of the problem. Additional resources are urgently needed to expand risk education for children, women and men in the most affected areas.
Watch a video on the danger of explosive devices in western CAR here.