Land Mine Elimination Program
Land mines are used worldwide, because they are relatively easy and cheap to transport. According to up-to-date estimates, there are more than 100 million buried mines throughout the world, many not yet mapped. Every year, another 2 million mines are set. The tragic results are the deaths of 500-800 people per month, while another 2,000 are mutilated by stepping on mines. Most victims are civilians (Vienna Technological University, 2004).
Detecting, retrieving and destroying mines continues to present a challenging task, particularly because different kinds of mines are used (anti-vehicle mines and anti-personnel mines).
Mine clearance in peacetime is important, because the cleared land can be used again for peaceful purposes. Demining requires 100% clearance. All mines must be discovered. After locating them, the mines must be destroyed without contaminating the ground.
Until the beginning of this millennium, it was considered that a clearance rate of 99.6% for manual demining was sufficient (in accordance with international standards for humanitarian mine clearance operations to a located depth of 20 cm). Nevertheless, it is difficult to determine demining rates, because the total number of mines placed is unknown. Today, after standards have been made more stringent (International Mine Action Standards (IMAS), 2nd edition) the compulsory target is to remove all mines. Compliance with the International Mine Action Standards is only realistic if a painstaking, manual mine detection and elimination process is adopted.
Metal detectors are the first tool in detecting mines, and can find the majority of them. Unfortunately, they cannot detect plastic mines. Trained mine detection dogs (similar to explosives detection dogs) can trace the scent of used explosives like TNT in landmines and indicate where they are. In some regions, giant rats are used. Compared to dogs, they are easier to breeder and quicker to train (approximately six months), their diet is easier to provide and they are readily transportable. Because they are not as heavy as dogs, their body weight does not actually detonate the mines.
When a mine is discovered, it must be deactivated using extensive safety measures, or detonated in situ. First the layer of earth covering the mine is cleared away, using extreme caution, until the mine is exposed. If possible the fuse is then deactivated. Other mines, for example those which are booby-trapped against being lifted, must be destroyed by explosion.
Fully mechanical mine clearance is an increasingly interesting alternative. The biggest advantage of fully mechanical mine clearance is obviously the absence of risk to human life. High risk mine clearance can be carried out using replaceable machines. Of course, a combination of several mine clearing techniques is also possible.
Our mine elimination programs have proved particularly successful. Our primary operations were in Croatia, where many areas were contaminated by mines as a result of war, rendering them useless in peace time. Ager Pharia demined these areas and returned them to agricultural use. The result was a classic win-win situation: The landowners could lease out previously unusable land, while investors could purchase agricultural land, and the food supply for the population of Croatia could be increased. In parallel, these projects helped stabilize food prices in Croatia.