Guy Petts travels the world making places safe from life-threatening unexploded landmines. Catherine Scott reports.
Across the Middle East, thousands of landmines and unexploded bombs lie ready to maim and kill at any moment.
They are often found in and around people’s homes where children live and play.
Every day, 20 people are killed or injured by landmines and unexploded bombs globally. Almost half of civilian casualties are children and many are left with life-changing injuries.
One of the men charged with trying to tackle this deadly legacy is Guy Petts.
Guy travels from his Ripon home to conflict zones around the world, working with landmine clearance charity Mines Advisory Group (MAG) – often putting his own life at risk.
A father of twin boys, Guy, 56, is the charity’s Global Mechanical Operations Manager, responsible for overseeing the specialist machinery used by highly-trained teams find and destroy the hidden killers before a child does.
“I work at the coalface a lot of time,” says Guy whose next trip is to Iraq and then Angola, where Princess Diana brought the landmine issue to the public attention in 1997.
“Landmines and other devices are still very much a problem of today,” says Guy. “Especially in the Middle East and South East Asia where there is a huge problem of unexploded mines littered around homes and we need to keep the public aware of this especially the effect they have on children.”
Guy says increasingly mines and devices are found around homes which makes the job of clearing them harder.
“We now tend to use a lot more heavy machinery and some of it is remote reducing even further the risk to the operatives,” explains Guy.
With names like Rebel Crusher, Orbit Screener and Large Loop Detector, some these machines sound like the names of spaceships in a science fiction movie, but they are just some of the tools which Guy oversees across the Middle East to help clear landmines.
Like many of MAG’s operational staff overseas, Guy previously served with the British Army, including the Royal Engineers between 1980 and 2002; with two postings with the 9 Parachute Squadron.
While serving in Afghanistan, Guy met a colleague who was working for landmine charity the Halo Trust.
On leaving the Army after 22 years Guy went to work for the Halo Trust where he stayed for seven years before moving to MAG.
“I have been married for 27 years and I do spend a lot of time away. I have twin boys who are now 22, and I missed a lot of their important milestones because I was away. But when I left the Army the economy was slowing down and I had to go where the work was, even thought his was hard on me and my family.”
As the person at MAG who decides what mine removal machinery is needed where, Guy spends more half the year out of the country – in the past 12 months he has worked in Angola, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Vietnam and Iraq.
In 2018, MAG teams cleared more than 17,000 mines across Iraq and Lebanon – helping to build a safer future for almost 450,000 people.
Guy says Iraq is one of the most challenging countries for clearance due to the size and unpredictability of improvised devices (IEDs) left behind by ISIS.
“Some of the IEDs we are finding are huge – the size of a 202-litre barrel.
“So we’ve had to evolve as we go based on what we’re dealing with,” he says.
Deminers are the people who go in on foot to clear landmines from the affected areas, armed with hand-held metal detectors.
But to make their job a bit less risky, it is the machines that are sent in first to help prepare the land.
But across the Middle East, there are still thousands of landmines and unexploded bombs ready to maim and kill at any moment.
However the threat is sometimes closer to home that you may think.
“We are still working in the Balkans removing landmines, which is pretty close to home,” says Guy.
In April MAG launched its Home Safe Home appeal which aims to raise money to expand the organisation’s work in the region.
Guy is urging the public in Yorkshire, and beyond, to support the appeal to help more families and communities affected by landmines and unexploded bombs.
“I’ve travelled to conflict zones all over the world and have seen the difference mine clearance makes to families and communities living in fear.
“Our work not only delivers the immediate benefit of not worrying about your family being killed by a landmine, but it also helps the community in the long term as roads, schools and hospitals can be built and people can use the land again for farming.
“All public donations to MAG will be doubled by the UK government until July 4 allowing us to clear huge areas in the Middle East, meaning homes can be homes again and children can grow up in peace and safety.”
Guy has seen first-hand the terrible consequences of landmines and IEDs and he says rather than going away the problem is increasing.
“My job is to go to the places and assess what is needed and therefore I see what has happened and the effect these mines have had on the local community. People, especially children are becoming amputees on a daily basis.”
Despite this horror and the danger, Guy says it is a job he finds incredibly rewarding in the knowledge that he is helping to save lives.
Home Safe Home
The Mines Advisory Group (MAG) is a global humanitarian and advocacy organisation
that finds, removes and
destroys landmines, cluster munitions and unexploded bombs from places affected by conflict
MAG’s Home Safe Home appeal aims to raise money to expand the organisation’s work in the region.
Give to the Home Safe Home appeal before July 4, 2019,
and all public donations will
be doubled by the UK government, making hundreds of homes safe again.