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WHY THE EXPENSE OF DEMINING? | 20 February 1998

While fundraising, Ms. Patricia McKenna's Civics / Economics Class at The Benjamin School, North Palm Beach, Florida received a number of questions regarding the cost of demining. They forwarded these questions to us and Michael Laban of Integrated Humanitarian Demining for Development, based in Harare, Zimbabwe, responded.

Many people ask us why it costs so much to remove landmines. Many say it shouldn't have to cost anything at all.
MICHAEL: That is nice, would they go out and remove mines for free? (Sorry for the cynicism.)

We’re wondering how to respond to comments/questions we've received during our fundraisers like: “Why don’t they just drop rocks from an airplane all over the fields where they know there are mines?”
MICHAEL: The ultimate answer is quality of clearance. The UN Humanitarian standard of 99.6% means that of all the mines believed/known to be planted, only 1 in 250 can remain. This is some statistical thing, and we simply aim for 100% clearance.

A usual AP mine pressure plate is about 120mm in diameter. You have to put 4 to 9 kg on this pressure plate and the mine has to be functional for it to go off. (A lot of 20 year old mines are not properly functional). Now you are going to have to drop stones from an aeroplane in such a manner that every bit of ground 120mm in diameter is hit by a rock that weighs at least 9 kg, and all the mines have to be functional. Secondly, what are you going to do about the trip wires?

Perhaps you could try an exercise. Set some mouse traps under a blanket in the middle of the school yard. Then have the students stand a safe distance away (50m) and throw rocks at the blanket until all the traps have been set off. By the way, you do not know how many traps are under the blanket, and you may not check until after the exercise.

When everyone has finished throwing stones, and thinks they are willing to risk losing their legs, or even a group's life (some of those bounding anti-group mines can kill everyone within 50 m) they can approach the blanket and see how they did. How long are they going to throw stones until they are sure of their work?

Or questions like “Why don’t they send cows out walking in those fields, or unleash a whole bunch of rats and have them running across the field?”
MICHAEL: There is a similar problem with cows. Their hoof is only about twice the size of the mine, and you would then have to herd them back and forth through the minefield until they had stood on every piece of ground. That is to say, they would have to step 25 times on every square meter of ground, and never step in the same place twice. Now this is possible, but it is like the monkeys, typewriters and Shakespear. Cattle are also the only store of wealth most people in the rural areas have, so it would hardly be free demining. Besides, it is rather inhumane.

Rats simply do not have enough weight to set off a mine. Rats only weigh 200 grams or less, although there are some really large ones that could grow to weigh 1 kg. Most Anti-Personnel mines are set off by a pressure of only 4 to 9kg, which is very light compared to the weight of an average person. So the rats could live quite happily there for the rest of their natural lives, and you would have a rat infested mine field where there was just a mine field before!

While these questions may sound frivolous, they reflect a concern for the often prohibitive cost of landmine removal and the risk of human life involved with the process. What they’re really asking is, “Isn't there a way for it to be free and safe?” Please explain to us why humans actually have to demine these fields.
MICHAEL: First, the “free” part is easy. Without revealing my political stance too freely—we live in a capitalist world, and no one seems to do anything for nothing. Why, especially, would anyone go freely to remote parts of the world and do dangerous activities. Although we could look at it as a form of adventure holiday, and perhaps even get people to pay to do it...

Humans have to do it because it is the only way to get the required standard. Anything less than that standard is not acceptable. Would you allow your school to go play in an area that had only been cleared to 80%? That means there is a one in five chance that there are mines left in the area.

80% is about what we can get from dogs, so we use more than one dog on the same area. Even at that, the mine is only found by the dog, it is then destroyed by a human.

Mechanical assistance may get up to 80%, but will often only get up to 60 or 70%. So it must be followed by humans.

Even with these methods—and we are working on using both to assist manual clearance—there are costs. Dogs must be bred and trained, and no one is doing that for free (in fact they are expensive). Mechanical clearance is very expensive, both to buy and to use. Many of the machines on the market are just beyond our ability to purchase, and even then would actually increase the cost of mine clearance.

Humans need to be paid. We will not send them into the field without proper back-up. That is, they need proper kits just to spend the nights in and feed themselves with. So there is the background cost. They must have a medic (who also is paid, and never goes into the minefield unless there is an incident, so does not actually make the team productive) and a vehicle which must always be there as an ambulance when any work is going on in the minefield. The vehicle must be capapble of four wheel drive in any weather. It must also have a driver, who is like the medic and does not boost the team's productivity. Each person must be insured (and the premiums are high) and there must be medical rescue insurance in case there is an incident. The equipment should also be insured. Insurance for a person per month ranges between US $350 and $450. This includes the driver and medic, who do not regularly go into the minefield. So an eight man team can add up. Each team needs a radio, and someone here in Harare to monitor, in case there is an incident. Radios can cost $25 000. Each person must be trained and equiped for his job. The equipment is not cheap either. A metal detector can cost US $2000 each, or more, and needs batteries. Buying any of these things on the cheap would be criminal. They must be of good standard, as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The team in the field needs to be backed up by a proper admin to ensure they are fed, paid, have the right medicines etc. That adds to the overhead. Then there are people like me, who also do not work for free—I am not that nice—who sort out the information, answer questions, etc. To do it, I need a computer and an e-mail connection, must pay phone bills and electricity etc. This all adds up.

I have yet to find anyone who will insure us for free (and actually pay out if there is an injury). No one wants to give us a free truck (even if it appeared to be free, it still costs someone somewhere). And the deminers, medics, drivers and myself do a full day's work and want a decent salary (even if it is lower here in the Third World than there in the North).

I hope that this helps you some. I am proud to work for Mine-Tech, and do not feel bad at all about the money I take home, nor the prices we charge for clearance (I actually think we undercharge).

We work with the entire toolbag that allows us to reach the standards required. We would go for nothing less than these standards.

Michael Laban
Mine-Tech / IHDD Team


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