Nerves of steel

By Audrey SomnardLex Kleren Switch to French for original article

One of the world's leading bomb disposal specialists resides in Luxembourg. Philippe Houliat brings 40 years of experience to the international community and works around the world to this day. On the eve of the International Day for Mine Awareness, the expert explains the workings of his profession.

Philippe Houliat is calm and collected, far from the hotheads we often see in films. Being a bomb disposal expert means following protocol and rules to avoid unnecessary risks… and to survive in a dangerous job. After a military career and a decade spent with NGOs such as Handicap International, Philippe Houliat set up his own company, with his wife, Delphine, and another partner, to intervene all over the world and train the bomb disposal experts of tomorrow locally. We met Philippe Houliat earlier this week at his office in Junglinster. The interview was postponed because he had to leave in mid-March for an emergency mission in Equatorial Guinea.

Lëtzebuerger Journal: You have just returned from a mission. An explosion of an ammunition depot in Equatorial Guinea that left more than a hundred dead and 650 injured. Who gave you the mandate and what did you do on the scene?

Philippe Houliat: Following the explosion of the ammunition depot, the government made a request for international assistance, so I accompanied a UN mission that was mandated to assess the situation, make recommendations so such incidents do not, as well as raise awareness among the population. It is up to the sovereign state to either do this alone, or to mandate another organisation. Very often this kind of accident is the result of small errors that add up to a tragedy. In this case, ammunition debris has been found up to 7 kilometres away from the explosion. The government has taken a good decision: They have set up a hotline for villagers to report any ammunition found so that it can be destroyed.

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