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U.S.-funded deminers conduct battle area clearance near the Juba-Nimule highway in Eastern Equatoria.

Nearly 12 years after its independence, South Sudan continues to struggle with the impacts of conflicts new and old.  More than two-thirds of the total population faces significant food insecurity in which families lack reliable physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life.  Climate change and continued conflict exacerbate South Sudan’s food security challenges.  Climate-driven shocks, such as four years of extreme floods, have reduced agricultural yields and increased South Sudan’s reliance on costlier external food supplies.  Moreover, Russia’s brutal and unprovoked war against Ukraine has caused a global increase in prices for fuel and basic goods affecting the buying power of many communities around the world, including in South Sudan. 

South Sudan’s food security challenges are made worse by the fact that the country is littered with landmines, unexploded cluster munitions, and other dangerous explosive remnants of war (ERW) left over from years of civil war and ongoing fighting at the sub-national level.  These explosive hazards indiscriminately kill and maim innocent civilians, deny safe access to fertile farmland, and impede the delivery of humanitarian assistance, which ultimately worsens the nation’s food insecurity.  To help address this crisis, the United States launched a program in 2019 to clear landmines and other ERW blocking access to fertile land to improve food security and facilitate the return of displaced communities.  Since then, U.S.-funded deminers trained and deployed by the NGO Mines Advisory Group (MAG) have cleared over 150 soccer fields worth of contaminated land in the Central and Eastern Equatoria states, the region with both the greatest agricultural potential and the highest levels of explosive hazard contamination.  Farmers in these regions of South Sudan are at the greatest risk of being injured or killed by ERW.

These clearance programs have important impacts, both macroeconomically and in people’s daily lives.  In late 2022, MAG completely cleared Rose Samson’s farmland of explosive hazards.  Rose can now safely harvest corn, cassava, and sesame without the threat of buried munitions taking her life or limbs.  With increased confidence, Rose has employed others to support her business and has expanded her farm across ten acres of cleared land.  She said: “I am now expecting to sell about nine bags of harvested sesame this year and, as a result, be able to pay my children’s school fees and other basic needs of the house.” 

Rose Samson tending to her farm. She has expanded her farm operation since U.S. funded deminers cleared her land of ERW.
Rose Samson tending to her farm. She has expanded her farm operation since U.S. funded deminers cleared her land of ERW. [Mines Advisory Group photo]
After harvesting, the sesame is tied with rope into bundles and dried for use and sale.
After harvesting, the sesame is tied with rope into bundles and dried for use and sale. [Mines Advisory Group photo]

South Sudan’s acute food insecurity is further aggravated by ERW contamination along main transportation routes.  In addition, the population faces ongoing threats to security throughout the country from high levels of violence, which hinders farmers’ ability to bring their goods to market.  Landmines and other explosive hazards make roadways dangerous to travel and obstruct the distribution of humanitarian assistance.  MAG’s U.S.-funded deminers are currently clearing land alongside major roadways, including priority routes of South Sudan’s food supply chain supply such as the Juba-Nimule highway.  In 2022 alone, MAG removed and destroyed 1,817 landmines and other explosive hazards along the Juba-Nimule highway.  The cleared land is now used for farming.  MAG’s roadside clearance operations have also ensured the safer movement of goods and people, including access to essential seeds and agricultural inputs like fertilizer to local farmers. 

The United States is also supporting explosive ordnance risk education to at-risk communities.  These sessions save lives and prevent injuries by teaching people how to identify explosive hazards, manage their personal risk, and contact authorities who can safely clear explosive hazards.  Risk education is critical for local farmers whose livelihood requires using land that is contaminated with explosive hazards.  Since 2019, MAG has conducted over 1,500 explosive ordnance risk education sessions to a total of 17,951‬ women, men, and children.  Kenyi James, a local farmer from Eastern Equatoria participated in one of the risk education sessions.  Before the session, he claimed to have moved explosive hazards on his farmland without knowing the risks to his safety.  After the educational session, Kenyi said, “I was going to die or get a serious injury from those bombs, now that I received the messages on how to stay safe […], my family and the people who received the awareness will not be victims of bombs anymore.” 

MAG’s Community Liaison team conducts EORE in Amee village in Magwi County, Eastern Equatoria.
MAG’s Community Liaison team conducts EORE in Amee village in Magwi County, Eastern Equatoria. [Mines Advisory Group photo]

Some of the estimated two million people previously displaced by conflict and climate-driven shocks in South Sudan are now resettling across the country.  MAG is directing its explosive ordnance risk education to returnees at greater risk of encountering explosive hazards.  This includes those forced to travel through unfamiliar areas and South Sudan’s large youth population.  Children are at a greater risk of being killed or wounded because they often mistake landmines and other explosive hazards for toys.  MAG provides tailored risk education to children, educating them on the dangers of the many types of explosive hazards across the country.  Risk education and mine clearance also advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and by supporting the Sustainable Developments Goals to end poverty and hunger, reverse land degradation, and promote economic growth.

From FY 2003 to FY 2010, the United States invested more than $24.4 million in Conventional Weapons Destruction (CWD) funding in Sudan prior to the creation of South Sudan, directing much of that funding to what is now South Sudan.  Since South Sudan’s independence in 2011, the United States has invested more than $22 million in South Sudan for mine and unexploded ordnance removal, risk education, and survivor assistance.  The United States remains the world’s largest international donor to CWD, providing more than $4.6 billion to support humanitarian mine action, physical security and stockpile management and associated activities in over 100 countries since 1993.  For more information on how the State Department is strengthening human security, facilitating economic development, and fostering stability through demining, explosive ordnance risk education, and other conventional weapons destruction activities, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.

About the Author: William Gifford is an Assistant Program Manager in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement at the U.S. Department of State.

U.S. Department of State

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