Mine detection dogs defend Yemen from mines
By: Bohdana Rambouskova, Communication Officer, Socotra Governance & Biodiversity Project
The staff and the animals of the Mine Detection Dog Unit of the Yemen Executive Mine Action Center were appointed to a hard mission at the end of 2009: to clear from landmines and explosive remnants of war in vast areas of the Hadramawt region. The winter season is the only time of the year when work in the extremely hot conditions of the east Yemeni desert is possible.
- UNDP Yemen has been engaged in the mine action since 1999
- Breeding of dogs in Yemen started in April 2004 and in December 2005 the first animals were ready for deployment in the field
- From January to September 2009, a total area of 1,400,224 square meters was cleared by mine detection dogs.
Due to its conflict history, Yemen has been facing severe problems with unexploded ordnances as they are present throughout the whole country with the only exception of the Al-Mahwit region. Some of the explosives are as much as 50 years old and hidden deep in rocky or sandy terrains. More than five thousands landmine casualties have been registered so far with many survivors never obtaining proper medical care and staying deprived of decent sources of livelihood.
Most of the casualties are women fetching water and woods, and gardening. Inhabitants of unsecure areas are also getting mine risk education to diminish number of injuries.
UNDP Yemen has been engaged in the mine action since 1999 and many international donors have been financially and technically supporting the Government of Yemen in its efforts through the UNDP Mine Action projects. These include: European Commission (EC), Germany, UK Department for International Development (DFID), Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Canada, Netherlands and Japan.
The Government of Yemen has also contributed significant funds. With a the total budget of 6 million USD - out of which 1 million USD from UNDP - the third phase of the Strengthening National Capacity for Mine Action started in 2007.
The project provides financial and technical support to the Yemen Executive Mine Action Center (YEMAC) as the implementing agency for all mine action activities in the country. The Mine Detection Dog Unit is directly managed by the YEMAC, and it is financed by Germany.
Dogs with special training are more suitable for clearing vast mine fields than detection machines or heavy machinery. First of all, dogs are much faster as they are able to easily identify suspected areas where mines are located; they can work in hardly accessible terrains such as rocks; they are reliable in discovering plastic mines and in fields with high occurrence of minerals where detection machines cannot be applied.
The only limitation for dogs is that they cannot be used in areas contaminated by both anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. This is due to the fact that dogs locate mines by smelling TNT and the stronger smell of anti-tank mines renders difficult the identification of smaller anti-personnel mines.
The idea of employing dogs in mine detection in Yemen originated in 2001 when the government of Germany brought in a first group of specialists from Afghanistan for a trial mission.
Their service in Khataba province was so successful that soon after the creation of a Yemeni unit with local personnel started. New Yemeni instructors, dog handlers, veterinarians and para-veterinarians, field supervisors, set leaders and group leaders were trained to operate in the field with mine detection dogs, 19 of which born and fully trained in Yemen.
The training center was originally located in Aden but dogs suffered from hot climate and the center had to be relocated to Sana’a where lower temperatures due to high altitude are more suitable for the animals.
Breeding of dogs in Yemen started in April 2004 and in December 2005 the first animals were ready for deployment in the field. Dogs complete the training at the age of 22 – 24 months after going through socialization trainings followed by explosives and then mine trainings.
The majority of dogs are German shepherds together with three Malinois Belgian shepherds. Dog handlers are recruited from experienced deminers in the army. “We have much more applicants interested in working with dogs than vacancies available,” says Ahmed Al-Khader El-Berhamee, Manager of the Mine Detection Dog Unit.
Dogs are far from being popular pets in Yemen but the mine detection dogs are held in high consideration not only from the army personnel but also from the inhabitants of cleared areas. “Many people are interested in keeping old dogs that have finished their service,” added Mr. El-Berhamee. Retired animals keep getting food and medical care from the YEMAC.
Mine Action field operations do not focus only on clearance of unexploded ordnances. After clearing a field, a quality assurance group checks if the territory can be handed over to the local community. Then a medical survey is conducted to record landmine injuries and provide the victims with medical care, artificial limbs and other means with the aim of restoring normal life conditions.
From January to September 2009, a total area of 1,400,224 square meters was cleared by mine detection dogs. The third phase of the UNDP Mine Action project has considerably contributed to reaching Yemen’s goal of clearing its entire territory from mines by 2014.