To Walk the Earth in Safety

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To Walk the Earth in Safety

The United States Commitment to Humanitarian Demining

Government report (excerpt)

By: U.S. Department of State; Bureau of Political-Military Affairs

Date: September 2002

Source: U.S. Department of State. "To Walk the Earth in Safety: The United States Commitment to Humanitarian Demining, 4 ed." < rls/rpt/walkearth/2002/14868.htm> (accessed March 1,2006).

About the Author: The U.S. State Department has responsibility for U.S. relations with foreign governments. The department is headed by the Secretary of State, who serves as the President's primary envoy.


Land mines are simultaneously one of the least expensive and one of the deadliest weapons in use today. Their name originated with an early method that involved digging a tunnel, or mine, under an enemy position, filling the mine with explosives, and detonating the charges. Common in the Civil War and World War I, this technique became less useful as armies became increasingly mobile.

Landmines came into common use during World War II and are used throughout the world today. These portable explosive devices, costing as little as $3.00 apiece, can be quickly spread across roadways and other strategic territory to either contain or repel enemy forces. Landmines function by lying silent until triggered, then exploding. Most are relatively small antipersonnel mines, intended to kill or maim one or more troops; larger versions are designed to disable tanks or other armored equipment. Unlike troops and most weapon systems, landmines remain behind after formal hostilities end, creating further hazards for civilians and particularly children. Mines can remain active for decades. Adults stepping on a mind typically lose one or more limbs and may lose their sight due to shrapnel. Children are typically injured more seriously or killed due to their small size.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 110 million undetonated land mines remain hidden throughout the world. Africa alone is believed to contain thirty-seven million mines scattered across nineteen different nations. The nation of Angola is thought to have ten million mines and is currently home to 70,000 amputees. Because of their natural curiosity, children frequently pick up unexploded mines or attempt to use them as toys.

The presence of unexploded mines slows reconstruction efforts following a war. Combatants frequently mine fields, preventing their use for food production. Mined roads impede efforts to return refugees and obstruct delivery of humanitarian aid. Aid agencies and governments throughout the world began to recognize the danger posed by unexploded mines during the 1980s, and widespread mine removal efforts were soon underway throughout the world. As of 2002, the United States had spent more than $600 million assisting mine removal and mine safety education efforts throughout the world.


Humanitarian Mine Action

Humanitarian mine action is comprised of four major components: mine awareness, mine detection, mine clearance, and survivor assistance. Depending on the needs of a given country, the United States may assist with one, some, or all four of these mine-action activities. In most instances, the affected nation will establish a MAC or a national demining office (NDO) to coordinate demining priorities and mine-action activities.

Mine Awareness (or Mine-Risk Education)

Teaching people how to recognize, avoid, and inform demining authorities of the presence of landmines helps to reduce the number of casualties significantly. Mine awareness utilizes a variety of materials and media to convey important messages. The materials, and the manner in which mine awareness is presented, must be sensitive to the cultural mores of the local population. For example, in Afghanistan, women, not men, teach mine awareness to other women.

Mine awareness attempts to educate whole populations, allowing them to incorporate safety procedures into their daily lives, not just during a single event. Often, young children are a target audience for mine awareness. Mine-awareness teachers must discourage children from picking up and playing with mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). Educating children to the dangers of landmines and UXO is often difficult, because they are fascinated with these toy-like metal and plastic objects. Still, the majority of mine casualties are young men. Informing adolescents and adults about the types of mines they may encounter and the injuries they inflict, and teaching them the proper procedures to follow if a mine is found can save lives.

U.S. military personnel provide mine-awareness training. These personnel are fluent in the languages of mine-affected countries, and they undergo country-specific cultural training prior to engagement in this activity.

Mine Detection

A Landmine Impact Survey helps to determine the nature and extent of the landmine problem in a specific country. The conduct of this survey entails identifying the broad areas within a country where mines exist and roughly estimating the extent of the problem. Areas where mines do not exist are also recorded in the survey. Next, a Technical Survey is conducted to obtain more specific detail on the landmine problem. Mined areas are demarcated and the number and types of mines found within the area are noted.

There is no single technology to employ in all circumstances, in all terrain and weather conditions, and against all types of mines. Metal detectors and hand-held probes remain the primary means to find many individual mines. The technology of these two devices is essentially 60 years old. Increasingly, however, deminers are recognizing the value of mine-detection dogs (MDDs), and the integration of man, dogs, and machines. Dogs are able to detect the chemical explosives in mines and are becoming increasingly important as their success rate increases and their reputation for safe and efficient mine detection spreads. Various mechanical technologies have greatly assisted overall mine-clearance efforts, significantly reducing areas that ultimately require manual mine clearance.

Even with advanced mine-detection methods, the locations of the majority of landmines in the ground today are unknown. International law requires that persons laying mines identify the type of landmines emplaced and make maps of their locations so that they may be removed at the conclusion of hostilities. Whether they are combatants in a war between nation-states or factions in a civil war, hostile parties are increasingly ignoring international law, placing mines indiscriminately without marking or recording their use or emplacement. Even when maps and other records are available, natural events may, over time, make them useless. To complicate matters, mines migrate from their original location as a result of shifting sands, as in the desert of the Middle East, or when heavy rains wash away the topsoil in tropical areas, as in Central America or Africa.

Mine Clearance

Clearing mines is slow, laborious, tedious, and highly dangerous. U.S. law states that "as a matter of policy, U.S. Forces shall not engage in physically detecting, lifting, or destroying landmines, unless it does so for the concurrent purpose of supporting a U.S. military operation; or provides such assistance as part of a military operation that does not involve the armed forces." Therefore, U.S. military personnel use a train-the-trainer approach to assist a country in clearing landmines. These personnel train an initial team of host-nation personnel in mine-clearance techniques, including medical evacuation procedures in the event of a demining accident. This indigenous cadre, in turn, trains another group, and so forth, until a large number of the country's nationals are sufficiently competent to clear mines safely and efficiently.

Once found, mines will not be removed from their location. Rather, the landmines will be left in place, marked, and then destroyed. If the terrain is suitable, specially equipped vehicles are maneuvered through the minefield in order to destroy multiple mines. The United Nations (UN) standard for a successful mine-clearance operation is that landmines and UXO down to twenty centimeters be destroyed. A process much like mine detection, called quality assurance, is generally used to assess mine-clearance operations. MDDs are very efficient for this process.

Survivor Assistance

The last mine-action component is survivor assistance that requires a long-term commitment to both the land-mine survivor and to his or her family members. Although important, it is not enough simply to treat the initial injuries. Many children are landmine survivors. As a child grows, new prosthetic limbs are required, and a lifetime of additional operations and expenses is necessary. Over time, the psychological injury to landmine survivors also becomes a factor in their recovery and for their family members as well. For these reasons, mine-action programs encourage a holistic approach to providing assistance to the survivors of landmine injuries.

As a general rule, neither PM/HDP nor the DoD uses humanitarian demining funds for survivor assistance. PM/HDP does fund some survivors' assistance initiatives from a special fund appropriated to support the Republic of Slovenia's International Trust Fund (ITF) for Demining and Victims Assistance. However, the major PM/HDP-managed demining fund does not support such initiatives. The DoD, using Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) and other operations and maintenance funds, pays for Blast Resuscitation and Victims Assistance. Additionally, USAID and the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) fund programs to alleviate the suffering of land-mine accident survivors and their families. USAID uses money from the LWVF to provide long-term treatment and prosthetics to these survivors. PRM's programs assist with the resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons, many of whom are endangered by landmines in the course of flight from their homes and subsequent return.


Many potential solutions to the ongoing problem of landmine deaths have been proposed. Research continues on a self-defeat feature, which would render mines inert after a set period of time. The United States' efforts include four separate objectives encompassing not just removal, but also education and rehabilitation. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines has actively campaigned for an international ban on the use of landmines, along with initiatives to destroy existing stocks of the weapons. In 1996, President Bill Clinton committed the United States to signing a treaty banning the use of mines, and in 1999, the International Mine Ban Treaty was ratified by numerous nations, although the United States was not a signatory.

Mines combine low deployment costs with high removal costs. Costing just a few dollars apiece, mines can be spread by air at rates of several thousand per hour; in some cases, mine removal can cost up to $1,000 per mine. Demining by hand is a tedious process, requiring a skilled technician to crawl along the ground and requiring most of a day to demine a fifty square yard area. Specialized equipment has also been developed for demining, including massive earth-battering machines which shred or explode buried mines in a controlled manner. More than 600 Mine Detection Dogs are also deployed throughout the world, providing mine detection in areas unreachable by mechanized mine removal techniques.

The United States remains one of only a few nations that have not ratified the anti-mine treaty, with U.S. leaders expressing reluctance to give up any potentially useful weapon in their arsenal. Although U.S. funding for mine removal activities has climbed substantially, additional mines continue to be laid in war-torn regions throughout the world.



Landau, Elaine. Land Mines: 100 Million Hidden Killers. Berkeley Heights, New Jersey: Enslow, 2000.

Winslow, Philip C. Sowing the Dragon's Teeth: Landmines and the Global Legacy of War. New York: Beacon Press, 1998.


Brinkert, Kerry. "The convention banning anti-personnel mines: applying the lessons of Ottawa's past in order to meet the challenges of Ottawa's future." Third World Quarterly. 24(2003):781–793.

Deane, Alexander. "Landmines—The Best Hope for Peace." Contemporary Review. 268(2005):14–16.

Obhodas, Jasmina et al. "Dynamics of soil parameters relevant for humanitarian demining." Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research. 241(2005):759–764.

Web sites

Humanitarian Demining. "Landmine Threats." <http://www. proliferation.asp> (accessed May 28,2006).

International Committee to Ban Landmines. "What does the treaty cover?" < cover> (accessed June 2,2006).

United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF). "The legacy of land-mines." < htm> (accessed June 2,2006).