As many as 102 million land mines are deployed throughout the world. Afghanistan, with an estimated 7 million mines hidden beneath its soil, recently earned the distinction of being the most heavily mined country in the world. Cambodia may have as many as 6 million.
The International Campaign to Ban Land Mines, led by Jody Williams, helped focus attention on the mine problem and won the Nobel Peace Prize for its work in 1997. But Chad's struggle with mines has gone largely unnoticed.
"I call Chad Africa's forgotten problem," O'Brien says. "It's completely isolated. There is no window on Chad, so it doesn't get attention. It's not of any economic importance."
Chad has recently gained some attention. Backed by more than $5 million from the United States, along with aid from France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and Libya, the mine clearing got under way two years ago. Last year, the U.S. Army trained more than 100 de-miners as well as instructors and support staff to begin the project.
In January, organizers began a detailed survey of the minefields.
For the United States, it is the second-largest assistance program for Chad other than food aid.
"It is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. There are 1 million mines and unexploded ordnance. The relative need is great," says U.S. Ambassador to Chad Christopher E. Goldthwait.
But for all of the assistance, progress has been slow.
In northern Chad, the Sahara reshapes itself hourly, covering, uncovering and moving mines, shells and other remnants of war. In the south, heavy rains dislodge mines and send them to new places.
Last month, the government of Chad cleared the first mines in Faya-Largeau.
Escorted by young soldiers in sunglasses and head cloths to protect them from the blowing sand, Goldthwait and an entourage of local leaders met over soda and dates. Then, in the desert outskirts of Faya-Largeau, residents, dignitaries and journalists gathered on a hillside to watch as a freshly trained group of de-miners detonated a pile of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines.
The explosion shook the ground, sent a fist-shaped cloud of gunpowder, shrapnel and dust hundreds of feet into the air and brought a crowd of residents to their feet, cheering at the sight.