Day 78: APOPO

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January 22nd 2019
Published: February 6th 2019
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Who knew rats...giant rats would be so helpful? Today we visited APOPO, an NGO specializing in the removal of landmines and live bombs/amunitions through the use of Giant African rats. The exhibit and demonstration were brief, but very interesting.

During the civil war and Vietnamese invasion, landmines were a weapon of choice. The problem is after a war when the tanks and guns are done firing, the landmines still exist. The exact location of most mines are forgotten. Another problem is safe removal cost. The cost of the landmine was less than $10 but finding and safely disarming it now costs over $300. Considering there is an estimated 4 to 6 million landmines and other unexploded ordiances in Cambodia and Cambodia has the highest rate of disability inflicted from landmines (4 every week since 1979), the long term effect is easy to see. Something I didn’t consider was the value of the land becomes essentially worthless and contributes to further poverty. These areas cannot be safely farmed or built on meaning businesses, schools, cattle grazing, etc. are done elsewhere resulting in less jobs and further distances to attend school. If families are unable to move, they live fear that every trip through the fields could be their last. Another problem is the huge amount of bombs the United States dropped on Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Over 500,000 tons of bombs (1,000,000,000 pounds) were dropped near the boarder with Vietnam (more than Japan received during WW2). Many of these bombs are still live and can explode when they receive enough pressure. The question became how to clear these objects and give the land back to the people...ENTER IN APOPO stage left. This agency found rats have a very keen sense of smell and can be trained to detect TNT. This is a huge improvement on modern technology that can only determine the presence of metal which could be almost anything. A rat can clear an area the size of a tennis court in 20 minutes where it’d take 2 days for a human to clear the same area. The other benefit is the rats are light enough not to set off the explosives. The rats are trained in Tanzania and brought to different countries with high density of explosives. Thus far in Cambodia, the rats are 100%!s(MISSING)uccessful: they have not missed any explosives or identified a false positive.


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