Decades of war in Somalia have left a devastating legacy, with landmines and other explosive ordnance left scattered across the country.

Arete photographer Abdulkadir Zubeyr recounts his experience documenting the demining efforts of the HALO Trust, and highlights the importance of helping local communities identify and mitigate the dangers of unexploded mines.

With funding from the European Union, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has contracted the HALO Trust to carry out manual demining activities and life-saving messaging amongst the population. Members of affected communities are being trained by HALO to work as deminers, and they are also educating people on how to identity dangerous landmines and what to do to take when they find one.

A recently discovered mine lays under the ground in Puntland, Somalia. The HALO Trust, together with UN agency UMNAS are working to clear mines in Somalia in response to calls from the communities.

My assignment was to document the work being carried by a local HALO team in Puntland on the Ethiopian border. On April 19th I took a plane from Mogadishu to Galkayo and from there travelled on by car. My previous visit Galkayo had been on assignment for the World Food Programme several years ago but this would be my first time visiting Puntland. I had also never heard of the HALO Trust before the assignment, so I was excited to see their work. (A UK-based international organisation founded in Afghanistan in 1988, HALO is today present in 26 countries, engaged in training local teams in landmine clearance and disposal.)

On the way to the field site, it struck me what a brave and difficult job HALO’s deminers do. According to their website 21 deminers have been killed since 2009, a fatality rate roughly in line with other global demining operators. The organisation has cleared 1.5 million landmines and over 11 million pieces of ordnance since its foundation, saving many countless lives in the process.

Yasmin uses the detector during a demining drill in Puntland, Somalia. “Before I joined this job, I believed that it was hard and would have more explosions but after I joined, I became trained. I’m happy to serve the community.”

When I arrived, I connected with the head of the HALO Supervisor, Abdi from Lasanod City, and who has been with HALO since 2008. Over the course of the three days I spent in Puntland Abdi introduced me to the various members of the team and to the activities that they are engaged in. Ahmed is the demining team leader and has been with the HALO trust for seven years while Yasmin, at just 24 years old, is the youngest member of the demining team. She has been with HALO for 6 months.

Marking stones laid out on the field to indicate safe (white) and unsafe (red) areas in Puntland, Somalia on 20th April 2021.

Despite the dangers Yasmin says she is “happy to serve”. “Mines are destroyers” she says. “I saw how mines are affecting the country and harming the people, so I decided to clean them up for myself.”

“Mines are destroyers” she says. “I saw how mines are affecting the country and harming the people, so I decided to clean them up for myself.”

Yasmin says the HALO Trust’s training has helped to protect her. “Before I joined this job, I believed that it was hard and we would have more explosions but after I joined, I was trained and so I understood the process more. It makes me happy when I locate and remove a mine. I feel joyful when a mine has been cleared.”

Buried mines pose a huge risk to local people, such as farmer Amina. Her goats must graze perilously close to the mined area.

Yasmin’s demining team is one of four working in Somalia’s Puntland State, carrying out clearance drills such as searching, excavating, marking, demolition and detector testing.

A separate team is also deployed helping communities by promoting awareness on how to identify mines and advising on how to mitigate against the dangers. Asma is 24. Her role involves talking to community elders and local school children.

Educating mothers to warn their children is a key part of prevention work. The HALO Trust's Asma (right) is 24 and works for the HALO Trust risk education team educating the community on safe behaviour practices.

In the classroom I noticed how engaged and attentive the children were when Asma explained the work that HALO does, the dangers that unexploded mines pose to the local community and how to identify different pieces of unexploded ordnance – an indication of the very real threat these mines occupy in the local consciousness, even from a young age.

“It makes me happy when the community calls us and tell us that they have identified an explosive device because of what we have explained. Sometimes we get a call from a village asking us to reach them, so this presses us to double our activities.”

The HALO Trust risk education teams carry out life-saving sessions in schools across the area to warn of the dangers posed by explosive hazards. From second left: Schoolboys, Abdullahi and Said, read during a mine risk education session; Schoolgirls, Ikran and Fartun, read the brochure provided during a session; Hussein addresses the class at a local school in Galdogob, Somalia on 21st April 2021.

These community-based efforts are not only ridding Somalia of explosives and helping to keep the population safe, but also, in an area beset by drought and lack of employment, the jobs provide an important source of income to the area.

Team leader Ahmed was unemployed before joining the organisation and applied after hearing about it from a friend. Yasmin also referred to the limited employment options for the local people her age. “If this job did not exist, I do not know where I would work because of job shortages. But I am happy with this work.” says Yasmin.

A local boy plays with a discarded car engine fan. It is children's natural curiosity for found objects that puts them at greater risk.

Puntland is near the border between Somalia and Ethiopia, the scene of previously heavy fighting. Several legacy mines are thought to be buried across the district, each one with the deadly threat to kill or maim.

Abdighafar Ibrahim Ahmed is the district Mayor. He explains that the mines have badly impacted the community’s livelihoods.

“Many cars and camels have exploded by underground mines and people cannot farm. This work is essential and urgently needs to be expanded. I hope one day people will be free to move anywhere, to farm and be able to dig holes for water. We wish we will be free from fear.”

A deminer, demarcates a clearance lane in Puntland, Somalia.
deminer marking a clearance base lane, Puntland, Somalia.

In 2017 I was slightly injured while covering the aftermath of an Al Shabab bomb attack in Mogadishu. Their notorious ‘one-plus-one’ explosion tactics – aimed at killing first responders on the scene – meant I was caught in an explosion detonated shortly after the first. I have since taken a much more cautious approach to similar front line reporting. However, covering this story opened my eyes to a front line of an entirely different sort, one where the risk of devastation is still very real but where those responsible for causing it have long since moved on. It was humbling to document the opposite side of this violent legacy, and the bravery of the deminers’ efforts to make the communities safe.

From left to right: Deminer Abdi, gently uncovers the mine to be exploded; Setting up the explosive material over the mine to be destroyed; Exploded and safely deactivated, this mine is no longer able to maim or kill a local resident.


All text and photos by Abdulkadir Zubeyr. (Names have been changed)