As South Sudan struggles for peace, it’s still cleaning up the deadly threat posed by thousands of land mines from previous conflict decades ago.
According to the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), cattle herders, charcoal collectors and children have been victims of long-forgotten mines that continue to make South Sudan one of the world’s most dangerous countries for unexploded ordnance.
The mines are a stealth problem among the country’s more pressing ones, which include the slow recovery from a five-year civil war, the worst flooding in decades, and hunger that’s expected to affect more people this year than ever during the young nation’s decade of existence.
The explosives are a danger to fragile efforts at rebuilding and development. After a road construction company accidentally detonated an anti-tank mine last year just 25 kilometers (15 miles) outside the capital, Juba, a mine-clearing team was in the community of Gondokoro last month to safely detonate over a dozen more.
The explosives were older than South Sudan itself, dating back to the 1980s and the long fight for independence from Sudan. Independence came in 2011, but the remnants of past conflict continue to kill civilians today.
More than 5,000 South Sudanese have been killed or injured by land mines and unexploded ordnance since 2004, according to the United Nations Mine Action Service. More than 1 million explosive items have been found and destroyed in South Sudan during that time, UNMAS says.
Hundreds of victims have been children, curious about the sometimes toy-like objects they discover.
South Sudan is one of 21 countries around the world, including several in sub-Saharan Africa, with the largest amounts of mine contamination among signatories to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, the international watchdog group Landmine Monitor wrote in 2020.