Effects of Landmines on Sri Lanka

by K.T. Manjula Udayanga Hemapala [University of Genova]

Image 1
The MV-4 Mini Flail System is fast, but not as accurate as manual demining. Photo courtesy of DOK-ING
Image 2
The Bozena 4 can clear about 2,500 square meters per hour for light soil and 520 square meters per hour in heavy soil. Photo courtesy of Dusan Krissak
Cost for manual demining
Average cost per deminer US$10,000/year
Daily working hours 6 hours
Speed of a manual deminer 25 m2/h
Working days per year 240 days
Specific cost of manual demining $10,000 / (6 hours/day*240 days*25 m2/h) = US$0.28/m2

Table 1: Factors that affect the costs of manual demining.
Cost for mechanical mine clearance
Investment cost for MV-4 Mini Flail System US$318,000
Fuel consumption 12 liters per hour
Area demined per year 1500 m2/h*12 hours per day*240 days = 4,320,000
Cost of fuel US$1
Operating cost per year (12*12*240)+10,000 = 44,560
Specific cost of mechanical demining 44,560 / 4,320,000 = US$0.1/m2

Table 2: Costs for mechanical mine clearance in Sri Lanka.

In Sri Lanka, statistics show people between the ages of 20 and 45 are the most likely to be injured by landmines. When they are disabled, they become a burden to the country's economy, requiring assistance instead of contributing to the country's growth. This article discusses how landmines affect Sri Lanka and the efforts being undertaken to lessen their impact.

The Tamil people moved from the southern part of India to Sri Lanka around the 14th century, and they struggled with the kingdom of Sri Lanka on and off throughout history. Since 1983, a Sri Lankan separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, has fought with the central government of Sri Lanka for a separate homeland for minority Sri Lankan Tamils. The decades of conflict have resulted in the destruction of large areas of fertile agricultural lands, commercial areas, residential areas, roads and water resources. Later, as people tried to resettle these areas, they encountered landmines and many became disabled.

Mine Ban Convention

The Sri Lankan government has not signed the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention.2 Both the government and Tamil Tigers formally committed to a ceasefire in 2002,3 but there has been a sharp increase in violence since President Mahinda Rajapakse came to power in November 2005. Government security forces are currently engaged in a limited operation in Trincomalee to reopen the Mawilaru anicut4 that was closed by the Tamil Tigers. It provides water to over 15,000 families and approximately 30,000 acres of paddy lands in the Seruwila, Muttur and Ichalampattu areas in the Trincomalee district. According to government sources, the Mawilaru area was heavily mined by LTTE forces in an attempt to slow Army progress.5 According to the Landmine Monitor Report for Sri Lanka, there still are 700,000 anti-personnel mines in the ground.6

Mine Clearance

Mine-clearance activities have expanded greatly since the February 2002 ceasefire. The HALO Trust, Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation's Humanitarian Demining Unit, Mines Advisory Group, Norwegian People's Aid, Fondation Suisse de Déminage, the Sri Lankan Army and RONCO Consulting Corporation are engaged in demining work in Sri Lanka.7

Currently there are three main approaches to humanitarian mine clearance in Sri Lanka:

  1. Manual clearance—an effective but slow process.8
  2. Manual clearance with support of mine-detecting dogs—a good method but very difficult in some areas, because the dogs can become confused if they smell explosives coming from several sources at once.
  3. Mechanical clearance—the fastest method, but less effective.

The speed of manual demining is approximately 25 square meters (30 square yards) per hour. Using explosive-detecting dogs is also a rather difficult process because the effectiveness of the dogs depends entirely on their level of training and the skill of their handlers. Also, all EDDs are brought from foreign countries and are not used to the Sri Lankan climate, so they tire quickly. Mechanical mine clearance is the fastest method employed in Sri Lanka. The MV-4 Mini Flail System9 has an average speed around 2,000 square meters (2,400 square yards) per hour for light soil and 1,000 square meters (1,200 square yards) per hour for heavy soil. The Bozena 410 clears around 2,500 square meters (3,000 square yards) per hour for light soil and 520 square meters (620 square yards) per hour in heavy soil.11

The other most important factor concerning demining efforts in Sri Lanka, after speed and efficiency, is cost.12 Table 1 shows the factors that affect the costs of manual demining and mechanical mine clearance.

By comparing Table 1 to Table 2, one can see the operating cost of demining machines is less than that of manual demining. However, the most problematic element of mechanical demining is the initial capital expenditure on the machine itself. Sri Lankan technicians are not familiar with the technology behind the machines mentioned above; therefore, after the warranty period, maintenance costs will be high because the machines will require specialists to fix them and the parts are difficult to find.

Conclusion

When considering the challenges of demining in Sri Lanka, it is vital to understand the importance of developing new technologies or introducing existing current technology to improve the efficiency of the task—but only with proper training. Humanitarian-demining efforts in Sri Lanka are daunting, not only the threat in the ground but due to the tenuous situation between rebel groups and the Sri Lankan government as well.

Biography

HeadshotUdayanga Hemapala is a doctoral student at the University of Genova–Italy. He is working in the demining group of the Laboratory of Design and Measurement for Automation and Robotics (PMARlab). He graduated from the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka, with a degree in electrical engineering.

Endnotes

  1. "Sri Lanka." CIA World Factbook. https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ce.html. Accessed October 25, 2006. Last updated October 17, 2006.
  2. Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, Oslo, Norway. September 18, 1997. http://www.un.org/Depts/mine/UNDocs/ban_trty.htm. Accessed October 25, 2006. The document was opened for signature in Ottawa, Canada, December 3, 1997, and thus is commonly known as the Ottawa Convention.
  3. "Peace in Sri Lanka." Official Web site for the Sri Lankan Government's Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process. http://www.peaceinsrilanka.org. Accessed October 27, 2006.
  4. An anicut is a dam or mole made in the course of a stream for the purpose of regulating the flow of a system of irrigation. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/anicut. Accessed October 25, 2006.
  5. Media Center for National Security. http://www.nationalsecurity.lk/. Accessed October 27, 2006.
  6. "Sri Lanka." Landmine Monitor Report 2003. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2003/sri_lanka. Accessed October 25, 2006. Last updated February 28, 2005.
  7. "Sri Lanka." Landmine Monitor Report 2005. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2005/sri_lanka. Accessed October 25, 2006. Last updated November 10, 2005.
  8. In Sri Lanka a rake process is currently used for manual demining and it guarantees nearly 100-percent clearance but takes quite a bit more time than using a metal detector.
  9. The MV-4 Mini Flail is a remote-controlled demining machine designed to clear anti-personnel landmines from various terrains. For more information visit, http://www.dok-ing.hr/MV-4%20Mini%20Flail.pdf. Accessed October 25, 2006.
  10. The Bozena 4 is a mine clearing flail system designed for clearing anti-personnel mines that are both pressure and tripwire fused, and some anti-tank mines. For more information visit http://www.jmu.edu/cisr/journal/7.3/focus/zimmermann/zimmermann.htm. Accessed October 25, 2006.
  11. Mechanical Demining Equipment Catalogue 2006. Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining. Geneva, March 2006. Available online at http://www.gichd.ch/fileadmin/pdf/publications/MDE_Catalogue_2006/MDE_Cat_2006_Front_and_back.pdf. Accessed October 25, 2006.
  12. Schoeck, Peter A. "The Demining of Farmland: Cost/Benefit Analysis and Quality Control." Journal of Mine Action, Issue 4.3, August 2006, p. 89–93. http://www.jmu.edu/cisr/journal/4.3/features/Farmlands/farmland.htm. Accessed October 25, 2006.

Contact Information

K.T. Manjula Udayanga Hemapala
Laboratory of Design and Measurement for Automation and Robotics
Department of Mechanics and Machines Design
University of Genova
Via all'Opera Pia 15 a - 16145
Genoa / Italy
Tel: +39 0103 5328 37, +39 3465 2632 42
E-mail: hemapala@dimec.unige.it
Web site: http://www.dimec.unige.it/PMAR/demining/