What Happens When HeroRATs Head Home?
If you’ve been around these parts, you’re familiar with APOPO’s HeroRATs — the carefully trained, classically conditioned rodents that are bringing peace and security to countries with landmine legacies. HeroRATs founder Bart Weetjens and his talented critters have recently been featured at events like the 2011 Ashoka Globalizer and Skoll World Forum, heard over airwaves worldwide, and even captured on film in the field.
APOPO has successfully cleared more than 2,000 landmines and unexploded ordnances from land along the Thai-Cambodian border and in Mozambique. But what becomes of the reclaimed land after the HeroRATs head home?
To find out, I connected with APOPO’s Hannah Ford. She explained that that land, once cleared, is released for public use — often for agricultural development or infrastructure reinvestment:
“For example, in 2009 APOPO cleared a small minefield at Pfukwe in the Mabalane district of Mozambique, allowing a village of 10,000 people to finally gain access to electricity. This was a high priority task, necessary for EDM, the National Electricity Company, to start work connecting the town of Mabalane into the national grid. The presence of the minefield was causing a significant hazard to the workers and preventing the work from taking place.
“In another village, there was a mine accident near a water pit, and the whole village moved away from their homes to live in a refugee camp. In the end, the demining team only found three more mines. So, a total of four mines in the vicinity of the water pit made 25,000 people move away from their homes.”
Though APOPO couldn’t provide comprehensive data on the use of released land, the examples Ford provided reveal how APOPO’s efforts help communities in significant ways; in some cases, APOPO simply enables families to return to their homes, while in others, they set the stage for the launch of national development projects.
To date, the social enterprise has cleared nearly three million square meters of land in Africa and Asia, gifting a sense of safety and freedom to populations once shaken by explosive threats.