When The War Is Over: Security And Risks To Consider When Working In Post-Conflict Environments


The successful execution of any project depends on the ability to identify the risks to delivery and the plan to mitigate them both at the outset and during implementation. However, when it comes to businesses entering and working in post-conflict environments, the risks to delivery are likely to be even more diverse, acute and difficult.

As well as the general difficulties of carrying out operations in any environment, in a post-conflict zone these can be combined with additional issues such as an already compromised security situation through to an unstable political environment. However, the threat posed by the leftover detritus of these conflicts, from caches of weapons to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), can be the biggest threat of all to surviving these environments, let alone succeeding in them.

Today, there are over 100 million laid and active landmines globally – not to mention millions of tonnes of other unexploded ordnance (UXO), such as rockets, mortars and IEDs, both from recent and historical conflict. Also, and of greatest concern, contamination is only increasing thanks to the upheaval in Iraq and Afghanistan, followed by the fallout from the Arab Spring across the Middle East and North Africa. Organisations looking to enter these countries need to be particularly aware of the risks and security threats posed.

In addition to (and perhaps due to) the vast amounts of explosive remnants of war (ERW) still in situ and easily accessible in the aforementioned countries, IEDs are becoming the weapon of choice for anti-government forces throughout these regions. According to The Landmine Monitor, in 2015, victim-activated IEDs were being used in no less than 10 countries: Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, Pakistan, Syria, Tunisia, Ukraine and Yemen – and this does not include command-detonated IEDs, used in many more. These homemade and unregulated bombs are becoming increasingly sophisticated to generate maximum impact and avoid countermeasures. They are hard to detect and even harder to remove. However, when the conflict has come to an end, the show must indeed go on, and that goes for businesses looking to enter these areas as well.

There is no doubt that dealing with ERW poses large risks, in part because it involves such a broad range of UXO. From anti-personnel and anti-tank mines to cluster munitions, from IEDs to air-dropped weapons and land service ammunition, these munitions can lie dormant indefinitely after the end of a conflict, continuing to pose a significant threat to any passing human, animal, equipment or vehicle, often even after initial clearance efforts.

Many of these mines and other ERW are located in countries coming out of recent conflict, referred to as ‘post-conflict’, that are now going through a transition into peacefulness and development. This means opportunities for business, whether it be infrastructure construction/reconstruction, road rehabilitation, developmental assistance or the opening up of new lines of communication and trade routes. However, this does not mean that the areas have been cleared of explosive remnants of the preceding war, which is essential to consider when attempting business in these environments. The first step to any post-conflict environment is mine action.

Below are some tips for any business or organisation on how to mitigate the risks and security threats when entering post-conflict environments.

Gather Information

This part may seem obvious, but knowing who to contact and the kind of questions to ask is essential for preparation and mitigation of the threats of ERW. Contacting the local National Mine Action Centre (NMAC) in the theatre can help to understand the kind and size of threat potentially being faced. Will there be landmines? Anti-vehicle mines? Unexploded ordnance? If a country does not have a direct NMAC, the police or the army should have similar information or, alternatively/additionally, contacting non-government organisations (NGOs) or mine action companies who have been working in the area will shed more light.

Questions such as where threats are most likely to be can help. These items can be found in places that would do the most damage to the infrastructure of a city/town/village, such as roads, bridges, power plants or water services. They can also target places where people are likely to gather or go, such as wells, other water sources and walking routes.

However, due to the rise in terrorism and guerrilla tactics in certain areas, there can sometimes be little plan to their placement. For example, IEDs are vastly on the rise in countries where perhaps the ‘main’ conflict has ended but tribal/civil/religious based strife still continues. These are a lot less predictable and can be placed randomly and become booby traps once there is no one waiting to activate them.

It is critical for an organisation to build its own intelligence picture on the area, involving the offsite collation and review of as much information as possible about the proposed working area in order to determine whether or not there is likely to be the presence of ERW and, if so, what kind. As broad a base of information as possible should be sought and reviewed, ranging from old military records to news reports, in a comprehensive effort to determine whether or not a threat is likely to exist. Risk maps, showing high, medium and low risk routes or areas, may be obtained if mine action groups are working in the area.

Dealing with an Identified UXO Threat

If there is a definite threat of potential contamination in a working area, a business may want to seek specialist advice and bring in support to conduct a non-technical survey of the area. This entails a deployment to the area and physical assessment of the likelihood of a threat being present through discussion with local inhabitants (often the best source of information) and local authorities. They will usually then carry out their own evaluations. Based on physical evidence, the team are better able to determine the likely presence of ERW and more accurately assess which are danger areas and which can be ruled out. Seeking this advice prior to deployment of staff is suggested as it will allow peace of mind when entering a new theatre.

If a threat is suspected, these teams will transition into technical survey, which requires deploying a clearance capacity into the suspected hazardous area to confirm or discredit the presence of mines or ERW. If any are found, the technical survey is of tremendous use in better defining the extent of the hazard to ensure that the most economically viable clearance solution is found, without compromising safety standards.

There may be a need to engage a mine action organisation to provide full clearance and disposal if, for example, a client is building infrastructure such as a power station, laying a new powerline or rehabilitating a road.

Risk Education

Information about threats gathered from local communities contributes significantly to one of the most important hazard mitigation tools for people likely to go into the area and that is risk education. Conveying information to employees, clients or contractors as to the potential menaces they may encounter and educating them about suspicious items will significantly reduce the chance of an incident – it is an ongoing tool that should be used all the time. Actions on what to do should one encounter ERW, (for example, do not touch or disturb the item, mark the item, avoid it or retrace safe steps and seek assistance immediately) is an important process in the risk matrix, ensuring people remain safe and aware of their surroundings at all times.

Additional Considerations

If going into an area where a threat is likely or even vaguely likely to present itself, preparation is everything. For example, planning to have a dedicated safety vehicle with qualified medics on board can mean the difference between life and death. This vehicle should solely be used for emergencies and not carry any other goods or people at any time, just in case of an incident.

Logistical shortcomings will also undoubtedly negatively impact a project that is not thoroughly planned in advance. Often in post-conflict environments there are complex webs of bureaucracy that surround importation of equipment and issuing of visas, together with the significant distances along difficult lines of communication and these must not be underestimated. Sometimes there are places where only a satellite phone may be used, or flooding can often render a dirt route useless for road travel for months at a time.

The security of the project staff and equipment is also key to its success, particularly given the potential volatility of post-conflict situations. For locations where the security situation is fluid, it is best to ensure, as much as possible, that all personnel are housed within a secure compound or base with access to emergency services. Where possible, hire security guards to guard the business’ headquarters, field camps and rented properties. These may well be uniformed policemen provided by the local police chiefs.

When selecting personnel, be aware of the operational environment. Recent conflict leads to a vast number of internally displaced people, resulting in skills shortages from the majority of locations outside of capital cities. As a result, companies need to recognise that finding suitably qualified local national staff, especially for technical elements, such as mechanics, can be very difficult in certain areas. Plan to mitigate this by deploying a professional and experienced project management team and international operational capacity with experience in hostile and austere environments onto projects. International personnel can be deployed initially and should, as an integral part of their responsibility, focus on developing the local capacity. Additionally, local or tribal conflicts must be considered when it comes to hiring a local capacity. Stay informed of potential conflicts between certain groups of people.

As a final note on maintaining security in a post-conflict environment, ignorance of local culture, together with any wilful and even perceived arrogance by international staff, can result in a negative attitude within the community, which may result in project failure. Given the post-conflict situation, suspicion of outsiders is likely to be heightened and it is imperative that a good relationship be developed with all relevant government officials, local civic organisations, other agencies and NGOs.

All these precautions mentioned of course do not remove nor negate the risks likely to be experienced in post-conflict environments. Where there was once hostility and violence, it is unlikely to turn to peace and prosperity overnight. However, this should not prevent companies from contributing to the development of these nations; it should just help them be more prepared.

Hugh Morris
Hugh Morris is the Managing Director at TDI The Development Initiative, a specialist business providing commercial landmine and explosive remnants of war clearance services. Hugh is a native Zimbabwean. He served as an officer in the British Army for over 10 years, completing a 6 month tour in Northern Ireland, before moving into the commercial world. He has experience managing mine action projects in Mozambique, Bosnia, Somaliland, Kosovo, Lebanon, Eritrea, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mozambique. He joined TDI in 2005 and has been integral in developing and growing the business since.