New Zealand Army engineers have been at the forefront of mine clearance programmes throughout the world since the late 1980s.
A New Zealand soldier has headed the United Nations Mine Action programme in Kosovo, a Kiwi team has operated in Cambodia, and New Zealand soldiers have been involved in clearing the two million tonnes of ordnance dropped during the Vietnam War in Laos.
Former Kiwi soldiers have helped run the Lebanon demining programme twice, and have also supervised demining operation in Iraq.
Helping run a demining programme in Mozambique, a country struggling to cope with abject poverty, was just another challenge for New Zealanders in the early 2000s.
In 2003 the majority of Mozambicans had an inadequate or, at best, unpredictable supply of food. Housing and healthcare was minimal, and only the comparatively wealthy could afford to school their children.
The odds seemed stacked against the country, but despite this, mines continued to be detected and destroyed. In 2003, fewer than 400 people cleared three million square metres of mines.
“That’s more than a third of the total area cleared by all operators in 2003. It was not bad for a country that relied totally on donor money to fund its demining operations,” says engineering officer Colonel Paul Curry.
From 1994, two New Zealand Army engineers were attached to the United Nations Accelerated Demining Programme (ADP) in Mozambique where thousands of landmines had been laid since the beginning of the nation’s independence struggle against Portugal in the 1960s, and when civil war erupted throughout the country after independence in 1975.
The borders between Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South Africa were heavily mined, as were bridges, irrigation schemes and rice and sugar mills.
COL Curry (then a LTCOL), WO1 Mark Wing and then WO2 Mike Tait, provided technical advice to support those involved in detecting and dismantling the mines scattered throughout the countryside.
As Chief Technical Advisor LTCOL Curry focused on strategic and management issues and the warrant officers were involved in training and quality assurance.
One of the reasons why the country was impoverished was much of the land was unusable for farming because of the mines.
“When I was in Mozambique the ADP was much more mature now than when New Zealanders first began working there. The hard work of our predecessors was very evident in the procedures ADP used and the professionalism displayed. We were there as technical advisors, and helped provide training in the quality assurance of the demining programme.”
The Mozambique Government did not provide funds for demining, and the country instead relied on donations from other nations and organisations. The donated money was spent mainly on equipment such as mechanical flailers to cut vegetation so specially trained dogs could sniff out mines, or other detection equipment could be used.
COL Curry has worked on demining programmes in Cambodia and Angola. The technical side of the Mozambique programme was straightforward, he says. He honed his negotiating skills there, and learned a lot about management through working with diverse embassies, NGOs and governmental organisations.
“The issues of language, corruption and agendas that often clashed made for a lot of frustration but also made any achievement much more satisfying. It was definitely simpler at the coal face of demining than at the political level.”
He says his New Zealand Army predecessors did a great job in setting up the Mozambique demining programme, and much of the credit for the success of the programme should go to the technical advisors who preceded him.
“The challenge was trying to help keep the programme going when funding was so short. The programme could lead very much to a hand to mouth existence. It wasn’t always easy, and there was a lot of frustration. Our training got us over most problems, and our attitude got us over the rest.”
“I think the NZDF’s demining efforts made a definite difference. People were able to largely get on with their lives, get their kids to school, and keep them healthy, that sort of thing. That’s the main thing.” – Colonel Paul Curry
This page was last amended on 18 March 2015