Seventy years after the end of World War Two, landmines that were buried in northern Egypt are still killing or injuring people in the local community.
North Africa was a key battle ground in World War Two. In 1942, in the Egyptian region of el-Alamein around 100 kms west of Alexandria, there was a fierce battle between Allied, German and Italian forces. The British finally pushed the German troops back to Tunisia. This ensured that the Allies could keep possession of the Suez Canal and its access to the Middle East with it’s vital oil supplies.
With very little natural obstacles the Germans and Allies made extensive use of mines as a defensive barrier. Around 500,000 land mines were used around el-Alamein’s coastal town.
Veterans who remembered how Engineer battalions had laid the mines and they knew where the mines were located in the sand. Troops would follow these men through the mine fields in single file on patrols in order to get through unscathed. Anti-tank mines would not explode if a person stepped on them, but the anti-personnel mines would. Compasses were also used by troops to avoid the enemy mine fields, but veterans remember the sounds of explosions and screams during the night patrols as some soldiers luck ran out.
Today the entire area around el-Alamein remains riddled with land mines and is comparable to the mine fields of Bosnia and Afghanistan. The area is mainly inhabited by Bedouin nomads, villagers and farmers with families and children.
Egypt has been classed as a high-risk area for land mines, and the United Nations Development Fund is in the area working on a project with Egyptian authorities to clear the mine fields. The project admits that in the past Egypt has not been active in solving the problem of land mines, but it is now actively clearing the mines and supporting the local people. The project has a database of land mine explosions plotted on a field survey, so that they can investigate the area around these sites, the Aljazeera reports.
Local authorities are also improving efforts to assist those who have been injured or affected by land mine explosions. The UNDP project says that educating the local people about the land mines — what they look like, how to avoid them and what to do if they find one — is their top priority until the mines are fully cleared.