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Diplomacy in Action

Defining Humanitarian Mine Action

To Walk the Earth in Safety: The U.S. Commitment to Humanitarian Mine Action
Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
August 2004

Humanitarian mine action comprises three major components: mine detection and clearance, mine risk education and survivor assistance. Depending on the needs of a given country, the United States may assist with financial support in one, some or all three components. Research and development in new demining technologies and advocacy and diplomacy are also considered by some to be components of humanitarian mine action. In most instances, the affected nation will establish a mine action center (MAC) or a national demining office (NDO) to coordinate demining priorities and mine action activities.

Mine Detection and Clearance

Sign: Danger.. Mines..A Landmine Impact Survey (LIS) is the initial step to determine the specific nature and extent of the effect landmines produce in a country. The survey is designed to identify the broad areas within a country where mines exist and to estimate the impact these mines have on the local community. Areas where mines do not exist are also recorded in the survey. Although mine clearance and mine risk education often must begin before the survey is complete, the LIS provides mine action authorities an important tool for long-term strategic planning. A technical survey is conducted to document more specific details on the landmine contamination. Mined areas are demarcated, and the number and types of mines or unexploded ordnance (UXO) found are recorded. A technical survey is done in preparation for clearance of permanent marking of mine fields.

No single technology can be employed in all circumstances, in all terrain and weather conditions and against all types of mines. Metal detectors and hand-held probes remain the primary tools to find mines, but these two manual technologies are essentially 60 years old. Increasingly, deminers are recognizing the value of mine detecting dogs (MDDs) and learning how to integrate man, dogs and machines in a combined effort. Dogs are able to detect the chemical explosives in mines, and they are becoming increasingly important as their success rate increases and their reputation for safe and efficient mine detection spreads. Additionally, various mechanical technologies have greatly assisted mine clearance efforts by significantly reducing areas that ultimately require manual mine clearance.

Even with advanced mine-detection methods, the precise location of the majority of landmines in the ground today is unknown. International law requires that those who lay mines must identify the type of landmines emplaced and make maps of their locations so that they are removed at the conclusion of hostilities. Whether 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. Often, when maps and other records are available, natural events may, over time, negate their utility. Mines tend to migrate from their original location as a result, for example, of shifting sands in the deserts of the Middle East, or when heavy rains wash away the topsoil in tropical areas in Central America or Africa.

Clearing mines is slow, laborious, tedious and highly dangerous. U.S. law states: " 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, which includes medical evacuation procedures in the event of a demining accident. In turn, this indigenous cadre is able to train another indigenous group until adequate numbers of the country's nationals are sufficiently competent to independently clear mines safely and efficiently.

Once found, mines are usually not removed from their location. They are normally left in place, marked and then destroyed. If the terrain is suitable, specially equipped vehicles are maneuvered through the minefield to destroy multiple mines. For buried landmines and UXO, the United Nations standard is that the depth of clearance should not normally be less than 13 centimeters below the original surface level. In conjunction with mine clearance, a quality assurance program is used to assess the efficacy of the operations; MDDs are very efficient for this process.

Mine Risk Education

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

Mine risk education attempts to educate entire populations, allowing them to incorporate safety procedures into their daily lives. Mine risk education teachers must discourage children from picking up and playing with mines and 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. However, 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, saves lives and limbs.

U.S. military personnel also conduct mine risk education during "Train-the-Trainer" humanitarian mine action deployments. These personnel are fluent in the language of each mine-affected country to which they deploy, and they undergo country-specific cultural training prior to engaging in this activity.

Survivor Assistance

The third mine action component is survivor assistance, an endeavor that requires a long-term commitment to both the landmine survivor and to his or her family members. Although important, treating the initial injuries is not enough. Many children are landmine survivors and, as they grow, new prosthetic limbs are required, and a lifetime of additional operations and related expenses is necessary. Over time, the psychological injury to a landmine survivor also becomes a factor in recovery and for family members. 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/WRA nor the DoD uses humanitarian demining funds for survivor assistance. PM/WRA funds some survivors' assistance initiatives from a special fund to support the Republic of Slovenia's International Trust Fund for Demining and Victims Assistance. However, the principal PM/WRA-managed demining fund does not support such initiatives. The DoD, using Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster and Civic Aid 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 landmine accident survivors and their families. USAID uses 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.

Note: the United States believes that the term "mine-safe," denoting clearance of those landmines that have a humanitarian impact, is a more appropriate term to use than "mine-free," because it is impossible, even by International Mine Action Standards, to guarantee that every single landmine has been cleared from an affected country or region. Furthermore, it is more realistically attainable, cost-effective, practically feasible and morally defensible to clear those mines that have an immediate humanitarian impact and to fence off suspected or known mined areas that are a lesser threat or less economically critical for clearance at a later time, so that funds may be devoted to clearing other mined countries or regions where landmines and UXO continue to pose a grave menace.

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