Humanitarian Demining: An Old Problem Needing New Tools

16 September 2019 – Toronto, CA

by Dr. Walter Dorn

The spectre of landmines is one of the longest lasting setbacks of wars. The haunting grasp of unexploded mines kills and maims long after the conflict is over, and the fear of mines leaves much fertile land unused, even when no mines are present. Landmines continue to plague about 60 countries worldwide. Even though the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty, known as the Ottawa Treaty, has had much success,  new mines and an influx improvised explosive device (IED) threats in recent years has made life difficult for local peoples, as well as Western forces (e.g., in Afghanistan and Iraq) and UN peacekeepers in many of the world’s hot spots.

Although IED and Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) removal has seen a revolution in new equipment and techniques, humanitarian de-mining has not. In fact, such projects are underfunded and/or underexploited. De-mining projects can also be lost in the myriad of other projects slated for post-conflict resolution and reconciliation in the effected area.

Many humanitarian de-mining teams are underequipped for the life-endangering task. Military EOD teams in Western forces have the advantage of advanced sensors, unmanned ground vehicles, and well-funded anti-IED efforts. But with humanitarian de-mining, even the introducing a more ergonomically sound rake can make a difference for their efforts.

Technology can help in each phase of humanitarian demining: technical survey to find the whereabouts of mine-invested areas; clearance machines to remove vegetation that covers the mines; detectors to find their precise locations; removal devices to safely move the mines (or blow them up in place, though this leaves metal debris that clusters the field and makes it harder to detect any unexploded mines).  The Cambodian Mine Action Centre estimates that 70 percent of their efforts concentrate on vegetation removal because of the difficult terrains and other dangers such as booby traps, poisonous snakes and mosquito-borne diseases. Deminers continue to die because they do not have the type of tools available to Western military forces.

A new paper reviews the technological gaps, overviews the technologies that could help humanitarian demining, and proposes new ways to save life and limb.

The full report, published in the journal Stability, can found be here.

 

Feature Photo / Anti-tank mine –Krzysztof Bergier, Flickr, 2019