Hurricane Mitch Affects OAS Land-Mine Removal Efforts

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Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Hurricane Mitch has dramatically disrupted the ongoing efforts to remove land mines in Central America, as the storm has displaced a yet undetermined number – potentially thousands – of the more than 80,000 mines yet to be destroyed. This will certainly delay Central America’s drive to free the region of mines by the year 2000.

In the last few years, the Organization of American States (OAS) has coordinated an extensive, internationally funded program to support the countries of Central America in their efforts to remove land mines left over from conflicts in the region. Hurricane Mitch has destroyed a substantial portion of the equipment and infrastructure used in this demining program.

The OAS has begun a thorough re-evaluation of the land-mine threat in the wake of the devastating storm. This urgently needed review will help determine the scope of additional financial, human and material resources needed to complete demining in Central America.

The forces of nature have moved many mines down mountain slopes and riverbeds, and have added large quantities of mud and debris to an already challenging detection and destruction scenario. The displaced mines also pose an immediate threat to public safety in the region.

Despite the loss of a portion of its equipment, the OAS and national counterpart members in the demining program have made available to local authorities ambulances and support vehicles, as well as emergency communications and military engineering capacity. These are being used to help evacuate and relocate affected people; reopen blocked roads; and destroy any land mines that have surfaced as a result of the storm and have been reported by the community. The program’s 27 international supervisors and 400 demining personnel have been assisting national and international relief authorities in this emergency effort.

For more information about the Central American land-mine removal program, call Thomas Bruce at 202-458-6829.


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