The voice of the head of the UN Mine Action Service in South Sudan rings out across the open field.
Then a loud thud is heard in the distance.
Good, I’m happy with that result.
For the crowd gathered to watch the defusing of a 50kg bomb found in the middle of Juba, the muffled whump heard from within the bunker is strangely disappointing.
But a more spectacular explosion would have been a sign that things had actually gone terribly wrong for the mine action team, which specializes in disposing deadly weapons.
The bomb is likely to have been dropped from an aircraft years ago, during the war of independence in South Sudan. No one knows how it suddenly turned up in the middle of an open field next to a football pitch where children have been playing, and near a community of thousands of displaced families.
The key message is that people should not touch items like this, says Richard Boulter, the programme manager of UNMAS in South Sudan. Simply report it. Let us go out and decide whether it is dangerous. If people pick things up and bring them to us, they are taking an unnecessary risk � not only to themselves, but to their family, friends, children and complete strangers. It’s simply not necessary.
As soon as the bomb was discovered, the UNMAS team launched into action to secure it, defuse it and safely remove it from the area for final disposal.
It is painstaking work. The team members spend hours in the hot sun building a protective structure around the bomb, with the help of engineers from the UN Mission in South Sudan. They fill the bunker with 50 tonnes of sand to absorb fragments from an unexpected blast, should the explosive accidentally go off. A special firing pin is attached to the bomb to disable the fuse so it cannot ignite. A cable is carefully laid out from the bomb shelter to the team managing the process from a safe distance. All the safety checks are laboriously carried out, and then it is time to push the detonation button.
This time, the Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan does the honours. With one push of a button, the bomb is declared disarmed.
This may be a routine job for UNMAS but it’s an incredibly important one right across South Sudan, says David Shearer. As the war has continued over many, many years, there have been ordnances and this sort of ammunition that has been found that has causes all sorts of injuries and deaths. The job that UNMAS is doing here today is a small part of what they do right across the country. We’re very pleased with their efforts and very proud of what they do to make people safe.
In the next few weeks, UNMAS expects to dispose of the one millionth unexploded ordnance in South Sudan since 2004. Their records include hand grenades, mortars, artillery rounds and land mines, weapons which have had a deadly impact on the local population.
Last year South Sudan passed the 5,000 figure for people killed or injured, says Richard Boulter. The last mine accident in this country happened yesterday, when an innocent woman trod on a land mine and lost her foot. It’s a very real danger. It’s still out there and we are working hard to clear this threat.
The Mine Action Service is an integral part of the UN peacekeeping mission. It surveys and clears mines, ammunition stockpiles and other unexploded ordnances, clears roads so humanitarian workers and local people can travel safely, and educates communities about the risks and how to report explosive hazards.
The defusing of the bomb caused huge community interest, with dozens of people stopping by to see the bunker and talk to the specialist team once the area had been declared safe. The event even prompted local police to come forward about a similar device that has been lying near their station for years. This bomb will be disposed of just as quickly and efficiently by the mine action experts as they continue their efforts to protect the people of South Sudan.
Source: UN Mission in South Sudan