Gichd

Detection and clearance in Humanitarian Demining very often rely on manual methods as the primary procedure. For buried mines the problem resides primarily in the detection phase: once the presence of a mine/UXO has been confirmed, deminers or EOD staff generally know how to remove it or blow it up in situ. Detection is usually done as a sequence of first locating a suspect object and secondly confirming the suspect object to be a mine or UXO. The first part is frequently done with a metal detector, though sometimes systematic prodding of the ground is used to detect the presence of objects. The second part, the excavation of suspected targets to confirm their identity, remains one of the principal causes of accidental detonation of mines by deminers. The target, usually a small piece of scrap metal when metal detectors are used, is gradually uncovered until it can be identified. If it is scrap metal it is removed to leave the ground metal-free for Quality Control purposes. For UXO contaminated land detection of surface and near-surface UXO is generally straightforward due to their substantial metal content.

Metal detectors cannot differentiate a mine or UXO from metallic debris, and may not be able to operated with sufficient sensitivity to detect minimum metal mines if the soil is highly conductive or magnetic. In most battlefields, but not only there, the soil is contaminated by large quantities of shrapnel, metal scraps, cartridge cases, etc., leading to between 100 and 2,000 false alarms for each real mine located with a metal detector. Excavating each alarm to check if it is a mine costs a lot of time and can induce a loss of concentration - after a deminer has excavated hundreds of false alarms they may be inclined to treat the next indication as just another false alarm and not take adequate care. When manual methods follow other procedures, such as mechanical clearance, constraints on the need to check every alarm may be reduced.

In recent years manual demining has undergone important incremental improvements to the current field procedures (SOPs) and management methods. Record keeping and reporting have both benefitted from the introduction of information and communication technologies, hand-held GPS devices and, in some areas, improved maps. Vegetation clearance remains a significant problem in some countries. Continuous developments have improved several pieces of equipment (e.g. personal protection equipment, more effective and safer prodding and excavation tools, and vegetation cutting equipment). Although far from being spectacular, these incremental advances can make a difference in the field and bring real short term added-value. The once hoped-for breakthrough by highly advanced technologies suddenly transforming manual demining appears to be less and less likely as time goes by.

Despite the obvious risks, manual demining correctly performed is not a particularly hazardous task and the accident rate for professional deminers is substantially lower in most countries than the risk associated with jobs like truck driving and working in the construction industry. (It is generally the case that more professional deminers are killed and injured in traffic accidents during the journey to and from their work than during the working day). Provided that the deminer is wearing good quality protective equipment correctly, is using "safe" tools with long handles and is following SOPs, the accidental detonation of a small blast mine is likely to result in minor injuries at worst, and some hearing loss. Bounding mines are very much more dangerous and are very likely to kill. The risk for amateur deminers without adequate training, equipment and supervision is high, and for local people who collect UXO to dismantle and sell the scrap metal is very high indeed.

A new technique which is being used in Sri Lanka is the use of rakes. At first sight this appears dangerous, but it has been shown that a fan-shaped "grass rake" will not detonate the small antipersonnel blast mines found in some areas. The technique is only suitable for soft soil. A trench is dug across the clearance lane and soil raked into the trench using a long-handled (3m) rake to expose the mines. The deminer gradually works forward effectively excavating the soil to the required depth of clearance. This technique is substantially faster than conventional manual demining, but is of course restricted to certain areas where the known threat and the soil type are suitable.

[Based on: EUDEM Survey, 1999]


Record updated on : 13 March 2014
Record id : 38

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