Humanitarian Mine Action

To Walk the Earth in Safety: The United States Commitment to Humanitarian Demining
Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
September 2002

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.

Photo of men demining in CambodiaMine 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 20 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 landmine 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.

Photo of girl assembling prostheses for landmine survivors in VietnamAs 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 landmine 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.