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Egypt Landmines

Egypt has been listed as the country most contaminated by landmines in the world with an estimate of approximately 23,000,000 landmines. This serious problem hinders economic development of rich areas in the north coast and red sea. The area of north coast was contaminated as a result of hostilities between 1940 and 1943 involving Britain and its allies (including Egyptian forces) fighting German and Italian forces for control of North Africa. The areas to the east, including the Sinai peninsula were contaminated between 1956 and 1973 due to hostilities between Egypt and Israel. These rich areas represent 22% of the total surface of Egypt. Development projects in these areas are significantly constrained by mine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) contamination and the civilian casualty rate seems high in proportion to the populations in these areas. The mines in a wide coastal strip, all the way to the Libyan border (and beyond), nearby coastal regions of Suez Canal Zone such as salt lakes and Red Sea coast prevent use of hundreds of thousands of sq. km. of agricultural land, prevent travel on thousands of km. of roads and deny access to potable water. These facts reflect the level of seriousness of landmines in Egypt. The contaminated areas in the North Coast, Gulf of Suez and Red Sea coasts are now being reclaimed for economic development so mine clearance is becoming an urgent priority for the Egyptian government.

The landmine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) problems in Egypt are unique due to the following facts:

  • Egypt suffers alone from more than 20% of the total number of the landmines in the world.
  • A huge area of land is affected - some estimates put the total at about 25,000 sq kilometres. The age of much of the material: up to 60 years.
  • Much of the mines and UXO is covered by thick deposits of mud or sand so that conventional detection techniques are often of little value.
  • Landmines can shift placement in soil over time and due to weather conditions; soil type can also pose a challenge to landmine detection and clearance. In sandy soil like the contaminated areas in Egypt, wind can shift sands dramatically, and the fine grit of sandy soils can rapidly wear equipment. Moreover, Excavating and sifting of soil for mine-size objects is more difficult in hard clay soil or rocky areas. Some soils have high mineral content that interferes with standard detection equipment.
  • The contaminated areas are rough terrain with Steep Inclines, ditches and culverts that make moving around sites by individual deminers or mechanical equipment difficult and even dangerous.
  • The climate is extremely unpleasant for deminers. Temperatures to 55 degrees Celcius are common. The conditions are either dusty and sandy or muddy along the coast: sometimes both. The muddy areas and marshes are particularly difficult to deal with as it is often impossible to stand in the mud.
  • Another challenges come from the type of landmines as there are hundreds of landmine types. Mines can have metal, plastic, wood, or even football casings. In Egypt, casings and components should have been degraded over time, altering their detection signature and creating uncertainty as to how mines will stand up to clearance.
  • Wind blown sand burying mines and fragments up to 2 meters deep in places. Deeply buried mines (>30 cm) are difficult to detect by conventional methods, and may even be missed by clearance equipment.
  • Due to the lack of maps, the exact location of minefields and placement of mines are not available. This information is rarely well recorded. Even though these maps are available, they might not be useful due to nature of the dusty soil in the affected areas that make the mines change their locations. If these maps are available, they can be used as guidance only with certain level of uncertainty.

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