For every mine we dig out of the ground, there is potentially one less person who will be maimed. That makes it all worthwhile.
Humanitarian demining is best described as a systematic search for the devices and their removal, where every step of the process has its purpose. This methodical approach is absolutely necessary because the extent, distribution and consequences of the mine problem is rarely mapped.
In other words, we have to identify and define the problem before we devise a solution. We have to compile data not only about mine accidents, minefields and areas polluted by unexploded ordnance, but also about socio-economic factors in local communities. That is how we make the best decisions.
When we have established a clear picture of the problem, we select a target area based on the following priorities:
- The socio-economic value of the contaminated area
- The number of accidents that have occurred
In determining socio-economic values we use a "pyramid of needs" model. Areas intended for habitation are top of the list. Next come those areas necessary to sustain life, e.g. access to water, farming and grazing lands. Our third priority is infrastructure in a broad sense.
This procedure however is seldom unambiguous, and there are often competing considerations. For example, clearing a minefield may result in an important road being reopened, which has a positive socio-economic effect for the country as a whole. However, local communities in the area may not necessarily benefit from a cleared road. Naturally we have to respect requests from local and national authorities, and sometimes we are faced with the difficult task of explaining to a local population why we have cleared one area that may be important in the future, while another field that claims victims lies untouched.
How a minefield is approached depends on the terrain and tools available. In many cases demining can only be carried out manually. Usually we clear two-metre wide access roads across the minefield to provide safe access for deminers and enable them to be deployed at the necessary safe distance from each other. This is then followed by a systematic clearance of one-metre wide lanes until the whole area has been cleared.
In cases where mine dogs can be deployed, two-metre wide lanes are cleared to form a grid which carves the area into sections of approximately 10m2. Doing this opens up the entire field, making it accessible to the mine dogs. We also have a greater chance of finding mine-infested pockets that way.
With the starting line defined, administrative zones, such as a resting area, parking for ambulances and other vehicles, storage for explosives, latrines, and demolition areas, are established. Our medics are trained to handle trauma and are typically stationed at the starting line to narrow the gap between a possible accident and immediate treatment.
Actual demining and demolition of unexploded ordnance is a physically demanding and dangerous business. Safety is paramount with no compromises – we do not want to sacrifice one life to save another. For this reason we have rigorous guidelines for every procedure. Safety has the highest priority.
Lapses in concentration do happen and can lead to blunders. Consequently, our demining personnel are well insured so that they and their families are immediately compensated should an accident occur.
On the right is a link for a soundslide on Explosive Ordnance Disposal in Uganda.