When conducting a risk assessment for The Accursed Mountains, Andy, Acre’s Founder asked Gavin and I to investigate land mines in the area and risk assess with our guides accordingly. Admittedly at the time, as Andy has a great sense of humour, I thought this was a joke. The process proved to be an important and provocative educational lesson for us both.
As it turns out, the Western Balkans contain Europe’s biggest minefields, and this isn't just a metaphor for the previously volatile politics. In Kosovo alone, mines have killed more than 100 people and wounded several hundred others over the past two decades. Back in 1998 and 1999 where the Kosovan war was in full throw, the Serbian army planted hundreds and thousands of land mines and other explosives.
From latest estimates by experts from the International Trust for De-mining (ITF), there are still more than two million mines lying about across a territory larger than Luxembourg. Over the last 20 years, efforts to clear mines have been carried out by international agencies, NATO missions and national security forces. However, the economic downturn of recent years has seen these efforts halted.
The HALO Trust, an NGO endorsed by the likes of the Duke of Sussex has been leading in mine clearance activities internationally since the late 80s and are one of the invested stakeholders in helping the Balkan countries clear the some 2700km of land from danger.
De-mining efforts in the region have been distracted by the pressing need to clear mines in other parts of the world. Targets for the region to be mine free were never met in 2009 and still have yet to be met in 2019, what’s worse is that experts predict it to be another decade before the region is declared mine free.
The implication of exploding mines on communities in the region have been profound. Though nowadays the occurrence of such events has decreased massively, those who are most prone to setting off dormant explosives are from the poorest communities, as ‘breadwinners’ are forced to farm and gather wood in these areas. The loss of such characters among poor communities causes further turbulence and subjects' communities to further unrest and struggle.
Kosovo and Albania, two countries the Acre team will trek through still have unexplored areas which could host dormant explosives. The trail we’ll be taking for The Accursed Mountains will be safe and has been walked on multiple occasions by our tour guides and other visitors. That being said, we've understandably been warned against deviating from the route. Whilst we’re fortunate to have guides who know the area and the paths we’re treading, those communities who rely on subsistence in the area are still at huge risk.
The silver lining of such an issue is that once enemies of the region, are now working together to resolve one of the unhealed wounds inflicted by the 1990s war.
For more information around the HALO trust and their global efforts to de-mine regions of conflict: https://www.halotrust.org/
For those reading this blog who are new to Acre; as part of our Foundation, we host a charity challenge annually, raising money for our main charity partner. This will be the 6th year we have done such a challenge. Like last year, all money raised will go to Plastic Ocean’s UK, who do an incredible job in educating, advocating and researching innovative solutions to solve the plastic pollution epidemic.
For now, if you haven’t already, I’d urge you to view the documentary that inspired us to partner Plastic Oceans UK. A Plastic Ocean reveals the devastating causes and consequences of plastic pollution, but also offers hope and solutions amidst the crisis: www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zrn4-FfbXw
For more information about the Acre Foundation or if you would like to make a Donation, please go to: https://www.justgiving.com/teams/acrefoundation2019