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Chad: Landmines are not for warriors

24-06-2014 Feature

War with Libya in 1973 and 30 years of internal conflict have left Chad contaminated by anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines, an often invisible but deadly enemy. Many survivors struggle to receive the assistance they need. Anatole, himself a mine survivor, now makes artificial limbs after receiving training from the ICRC.


Anatole and his colleague François preparing a prosthetic limb.© ICRC / Lucas

Despite encouraging steps taken by the Chadian government, which ratified the Anti-Personnel Mine-Ban Convention in 1999, the precise extent of mine contamination in the country remains unclear. Accidents still occur, especially in the northern desert areas of Tibesti and Wadi Fira which have yet to be systematically cleared.

A workshop of hope – newly made prosthetic limbs in the N’Djamena physical rehabilitation centre. 

A workshop of hope – newly made prosthetic limbs in the N’Djamena physical rehabilitation centre.
© ICRC / Lucas

Alexandre Ratebaye, Director of the Legal Affairs Department of the Chadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says that landmines are inhuman and should no longer be used as a means of warfare. “Clearing contaminated areas remains one of the major challenges for Chad, both in terms of saving lives and advancing development.”

Limited options

Chadian mine victims in need of artificial limbs or orthotic devices have limited options. Bigger than France and Spain combined, Chad only has two physical rehabilitation centres, in the capital N’Djamena and in the southern city of Moundou, both of which struggle to find regular funding. There are no rehabilitation centres in the most contaminated areas to the north and northeast, and transporting victims who survive their injuries from these areas to the centres is not an easy task.

Anatole and colleague François take a well-earned break from their toils. 

Anatole and colleague François take a well-earned break from their toils.
© ICRC / Lucas

The majority of patients reaching the two centres are survivors of past accidents who need long-term medical care and replacement artificial limbs every two to three years. One of those needing regular check-ups is Anatole, a mine survivor whose recovery has been remarkable, as he himself says: “Today, I sometimes forget I have an artificial limb."

In his forties now, Anatole was a 20-year-old soldier when the truck he was traveling in drove over a mine in the Tibesti desert. Eight of his companions were killed instantly and several others, including Anatole, were left badly wounded. "After the explosion, I fainted. When I woke up my left leg was all mashed up and blood was pouring out of my ears. I only regained my hearing months later. In the weeks after my leg was amputated, I wanted to kill myself," he explains.

When he regained consciousness in hospital, Anatole’s biggest worry, as a father to five children, was who would make sure his family had a roof over their head and food on the table. This was a very real concern, as he was demobilized after his accident and never received compensation for his injuries.

Giving hope

Anatole at work in the N’Djamena physical rehabilitation centre. 

Anatole at work in the N’Djamena physical rehabilitation centre.
© ICRC / Lucas

Luckily, following training provided by the ICRC, Anatole now has a steady job – as an assistant technician at the N’Djamena physical rehabilitation centre, producing artificial limbs for other mine survivors. He says he’s very happy and proud of this new life and responsibility. "I like to help my brothers. Because of my own experience, I am well placed to explain to them that they need to be patient when they receive their new artificial limbs. I try to give them hope that things will get better in the future.”

However, he has not forgotten those who invented and produced landmines, and his anger towards them is undiminished: "This weapon is not for warriors. It is invisible and strikes years after the war. In my village, cattle herders are usually children, and they have to walk in contaminated areas risking their lives. Women who go to fetch firewood are also in danger. These weapons should no longer be used."

Anti-personnel mines are banned under the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, to which 161 States are party.  Anti-vehicle mines are regulated by Additional Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional weapons, which has 100 States Parties.  
 

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