Carefree is not a word Dea would associate with her childhood. Nor was that the feeling of other local residents of Ljubljenica village in Bosnia and Herzegovina — some fled the area after the war that left mines across the country, others faced challenges in using their fields to graze livestock or to cut and gather woods from the local forests.
Now 20, Dea is a computer science student in Mostar. Every day on her way to school she passes near the area where military operations took place in the recent past.
Across the country, people have parallel stories to Dea’s. Whether it’s trying to work or exploring the beautiful nature, not knowing whether people are safe is still a looming threat, even 25 years after the war. The first estimation of the country’s mine problem was 4,200 km2 mine-contaminated land, which is 8.2 percent of the country’s territory. An estimated 32,000 households are exposed to direct risk.
Thanks to successful de-mining operations, the current size of hazardous area is down to 957 km2 or 1.96 percent of the total country. That still poses a threat, not only for direct safety, but also the danger it presents for other contexts. Every year sizable areas of natural treasure are lost in forest fires due to mine and explosive remnants of war preventing firefighters’ access. An otherwise solvable problem becomes a nearly mission impossible. Mišo Pamučina, the Demining Coordinator for Public Institution Ecology and Safety, explains what such a danger can mean. “Here in the village of Slivnica, we had a major problem with wildfires some two or three years ago. We came to put out the fire, and as we attempted to set up a fire line, the blasts started in the minefield.” Identifying where the danger lies is the first step. Thanks to a European Union initiative, Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Centre, with the assistance of the BiH Armed Forces, Norwegian People’s Aid, UNDP and EUFOR, successfully defined 8,525 suspected micro-locations and 118 mine suspected areas were registered out of the country’s 145 municipalities. The Mine Action Centre defined areas of these locations for future land release operations.
Knowing the locations of these mines can be lifesaving. Part of the initiative has been to create a mobile phone application that allows citizens to be aware of and avoid the locations of mine suspected areas throughout the country.
Arina Bešlagić, Department of Civil Protection by day, has been a volunteer with the Mountain Rescue Service (MRS) for three years. When people are lost, injured in remote areas, or in cases of avalanches or earthquakes, they are called to work or to assist to police, civil protection and other institutions. She points out that eighty percent of the MRS’ activities are searches for those lost in inaccessible terrains and mountainous areas.
“Our biggest problem are minefields that were not marked in the past, and the maps were not updated. The application gives us the opportunity to take photos, record coordinates and call the police and report during the field work, if we notice an unexploded ordinance which is not in the minefield, thus contribute to updating the application itself,” she says.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the top regional destinations for outdoor tourism, with an increasing number of visitors coming from abroad.
Mountaineer Thierry Joubert lives and works here, and tries to spend as much time as possible in the mountains. He specializes in developing and running responsible walking and cycling trips along the Via Dinarica.
Despite their beauty, many of the famous mountains are mine contaminated and too many stories exist of trekkers on routes suddenly finding themselves in minefields or seeing unexploded ordinances. The app is a very welcome addition. “I can see right on the spot if something is suspected or not,” he says. “We didn’t have that before, you’d have to carry a map, become familiar with it, have internet connection, but with this application you can find out about the mines on the ground in no time.”
“Do not risk your own life and lives of others” has been a caution of many citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina for decades. That message has shifted now to “Be informed about dangerous areas and be more safe whatever it is that you love or do.” Hopefully, mines and explosive remnants of war will become a thing of the past for future generations.
“I hope that my and other children will have a happy and carefree childhood and not worry if something will happen to them,” Dea says. “I hope that their childhood will be the opposite of mine, that they will be able to explore and rejoice as much as they want.
The Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Suspected Areas app, property of BH Mine Action Centre, was developed as part of the “Country Assessment of Mine Suspected Areas” and “EU Support to the Creation of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Centre’s (BHMAC) Information System Web Platform” projects. It can be download from Google App and App Store.
Photos: UNDP Bosnia and Herzogvina /Vedran Kurteš