Making Land Release in Mozambique Operational

by Antonio Belchior [ Instituto Nacional de Desminagem ] and Charles Downs [ Downs Consulting ]

Mozambique’s national program for land release has cleared many Suspected Hazardous Areas in the past eight years, but the Instituto Nacional de Desminagem (National Demining Institute) aims to make the program even more effective. In March 2009, IND collaborated with the Survey Action Center to host a workshop at which land release terminology and concepts were discussed, hoping that improved survey methodologies would lead to a more efficient land-release process. The workshop resulted in the creation of national land-release draft elements and criteria that will help to develop practical land-release standards in the near future.

Mozambique’s Instituto Nacional de Desminagem is interested in the land-release approach as a practical method to increase the efficient use of demining resources and to more rapidly eliminate the threats to life and obstacles to development caused by landmines and other explosive remnants of war found in Suspected Hazardous Areas. Land release emphasizes the continuous collection of information to determine where mine clearance is necessary to eliminate community suspicion and support full use of land.

In Mozambique, land release builds on existing good practices of the national program. The 2000–02 Landmine Impact Survey estimated there were 558 square kilometers (215 square miles) of suspected areas, with 1,374 SHAs affecting 791 communities. While approximately 60 square kilometers (23 square miles) have been cleared over the past eight years, the current best estimate is that 12 square kilometers (five square miles) of SHAs remain. The difference is primarily the result of cancellation through continuing survey and improving information. In addition, demining operators regularly clear only a portion of a demining task area, with the remainder reduced through “lighter” methods. Nonetheless, a majority of tasks completed in 2008 detected no mines or explosive remnants of war. There is still room for improvement, and a deliberate application of the land-release approach is expected to improve the efficiency and progress of the national program as a whole.

A visit to Handicap International task site—the landowner confirmed that the Suspected Hazardous Area on the right (identified a decade earlier) was actually overgrown by choice and not because of mine threat.
Photo courtesy of IND/Mozambique

The Workshop Discussion regarding land release in Mozambique began in 2008 when IND management, with the support of the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, introduced the subject within IND and with other stakeholders. As a second step, IND invited the Survey Action Center to help develop a policy approach and facilitate a workshop for its operations/quality-assurance staff. The purpose of the workshop was to develop operational procedures related to land release, particularly through Non-technical and Technical Survey, for quality assurance of the process, and for the documentation of results. These issues are particularly relevant in Mozambique, since land-release activities will most often be carried out by demining operators, with the IND providing quality assurance and acceptance of the results. Thus, IND staff would need to understand the typical operator steps to conduct land release through survey and the appropriate measures for quality assurance of that process.

The workshop effectively combined conceptual discussions, working groups and site visits. The training centered on a few key topics: quality management and quality assurance for mine action, concepts and methods for land release, land release through Non-technical and Technical Survey methods, specific criteria for land release relevant for Mozambique, and practical use of the criteria. This resulted in agreement on draft elements for two important documents: “Elements of National Standards for Land Release” and “Criteria for Release of Suspect Areas Through Survey.” Additionally, the workshop resulted in the revision of the terms of reference, procedures and forms for quality assurance of demining.

IND-SAC workshop participants discuss principles of land release.

The participants evaluated the workshop in very positive terms. They believed that the combination of theory and practice provided a level of understanding and technical capacity that will enable them to participate in the field with operators and communities to objectively and responsibly evaluate and validate suspect areas proposed to be cancelled, confirmed or cleared. Participants emphasized the need for quality-assurance teams to be directly involved with the reclassification of SHAs, that this should be done in permanent dialogue with the local communities and operators on the ground, and that this will result in greater confidence in the data eventually contained in the official information-management system.


The next steps for starting to use the land-release approach in Mozambique include:

  1. Finish the current internal IND discussion regarding the draft norms and criteria
  2. Expand the discussion to include humanitarian and commercial operators active in the country
  3. Refine the draft norms and criteria
  4. Determine how the operators will apply the norms

This will lead to a pilot application of the interim standard, criteria and procedures for land release, which will be evaluated after a period of six months.

Workshop participants visit HI task site.

The implementation of the methodological principles of land release through survey is expected to provide greater rigor and objectivity both in the process of reduction/cancellation of suspect mined areas and in the treatment of information regarding newly identified SHAs. The IND leadership looks forward to the improvements this may bring to the national program as well as to the communities, institutions and individuals whose lives and work are still affected by the remaining landmine problem in Mozambique. This experience should also bring useful lessons for other programs.

The IND staff in the workshop concluded that the IND should take the lead in developing national land-release standards and procedures in full discussion with operators and other stakeholders, and that the national database should be promptly updated to reflect land-release decisions.

Draft Elements and Criteria

Draft elements for national land release standards include the following:

Draft criteria for release of specific parcels of land through survey developed in the workshop for further discussion included:

The IND will finalize the standards and detailed criteria in discussion with the demining operators active in Mozambique. This will provide the framework to implement land release and increase the efficiency of mine action in Mozambique. These changes will improve the national program and may provide an interesting paradigm for other national programs and organizations.


Antonio Belchior joined the Instituto Nacional de Desminagem (Mozambique National Demining Institute) in 2001, and is now Chief of the Operations Department. He manages the IND staff responsible for quality assurance of demining conducted by independent operators in Mozambique and for the coordination of education activities to prevent accidents with mines and other ERW. He has a university degree in education and has worked in both teaching and training. In 2005, Belchior participated in the United Nations Development Programme’s Senior Managers’ Course delivered by the Mine Action Information Center at James Madison University.

Charles Downs has worked in mine action since 1999, when he became the Chief of the Mine Action Unit of the United Nations Office for Project Services, a position he held until 2004. Downs is a consultant who has worked with the Survey Action Centre, the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining and the United Nations Development Programme on various projects. He is a Professor of International Project Management at New York University’s Wagner School.

Contact Information

Antonio Belchior
Chief Operations Department
Instituto Nacional de Desminagem
Rua da Resistência 1746, Bloco B, 7 andar
Maputo / Mozambique
Tel: +258 21 410400
Fax. +258 21 418577
Web site:

Charles Downs
Principal, Downs Consulting
Adjunct Professor
Wagner Graduate School of Public Service
New York University
Brooklyn, NY / USA