(NEWSWEEK) Even at the height of summer, when the upper crust of Cairo descends on the nearby Mediterranean coast, the world’s largest open-air armory is a bleak place. With up to 17 million land mines buried in the sands of northwest Egypt, no one can set foot beyond the carefully demarcated boundaries for fear of losing a limb—or their life.
Home to what’s likely the world’s largest unexploded minefield, the area is an eerie reminder of the ferocity of World War II. It saw serious action in the early 1940s as the British sought to stymie the advance of Nazi Army General Erwin Rommel’s vaunted Afrika Korps, and the German, British and Italian armies buried millions of tons of explosives as they battled one another across North Africa. But until recently, the minefields of the Sahara posed a problem mainly for local Bedouins, who are among the few who live in the area; since 2006, they’ve suffered more than 150 casualties.