The Surprisingly Constant Cost of Landmine Impact Surveys

by Russell Gasser [ Humanitarian Technology Consulting Ltd. ]

Landmine Impact Surveys involve survey teams that work with the local people to evaluate how landmines and unexploded ordnance affect daily lives. The Survey Action Center, United Nations and the affected countries closely regulate this process to ensure the preservation of high standards.1

Locals from landmine-affected communities draw community maps in Sudan. Locals from landmine-affected communities draw community maps in Sudan. All images courtesy of the author.

There is no obvious reason that a Landmine Impact Survey should cost the same in a small European country like Bosnia and Herzegovina as it does in Chad or Thailand, but analysis of the 13 surveys with published costs shows that most surveys do cost about the same amount.1 The two largest surveys (Afghanistan and Angola) show more variation. This analysis provides a way to deduce which of the past surveys were most cost-effective and could lead to ways of reducing LIS costs, while providing estimates for future survey costs. Several surveys have been stopped and restarted due to funding shortfalls; therefore, a better cost estimate would help in planning. It is important to remember this is not a rigorously predictive method but an observation on worldwide experience.

Surveys are conducted as defined by international protocols.2 This method probably attributes to the fairly constant fixed costs, which are more than US$900,000 per country (See Figure 1). In addition to these fixed costs, a variable component averages about $800 for each community suspected of being affected by landmines and/or unexploded ordnance from the start of the main data collection.

Before the main survey starts, a LIS undertakes a Recollection of the Opinion of Experts in the affected country that results in a list of each community in which people are considered mine- and/or UXO-affected. These communities are known as suspected positives. At this point in the process, identifying potentially affected communities may eliminate areas within the country where there has been no conflict. In Senegal, only the Southern province of Casamance has mined areas. In Thailand, mines only exist in certain border areas. Thus far, every survey has found that a significant proportion—roughly one-half—of the suspected positives are not mine- and/or UXO-affected, and they then become false positives in the survey data. (See Table 1.)

Figure 1: Landmine Impact Survey costs available from reports found on http://www.sac-na.org.
(Click image to enlarge)
"Figure 1. Landmine Impact Survey costs available from reports found on http://www.sac-na.org."

The correlation of total cost against parameters—such as the number of communities suspected, the number visited, the number impacted, the numbers with mines, UXO, or victims, plus several different combinations of this data—was analyzed for all available published surveys. This showed that the best correlation is between the overall cost and the number of suspected positives after the initial data gathering and gazetteer preparation. This may be expected, as a survey team usually must visit each suspected positive community.

The correlation strength between costs and suspected positives was unexpected at the beginning of the analysis. After eliminating the countries with missing data—including Cambodia, which did not use a sampling methodology—a strong correlation of 0.8 for all surveys was found to exist between the costs and suspected positives. (See Figure 1.) The fixed costs are surprisingly high, meaning that the larger the survey, the lower the cost per affected community. Although this varies from one country to another, Afghanistan and Bosnia and Herzegovina were less costly than average, whereas Angola, Eritrea and Somalia were more expensive.3 These increased costs may be explained because the Angola LIS had to be stopped and restarted, and Somalia’s survey was undertaken in three phases.1

Future Outcomes

I suggest the mine-action community can draw some useful conclusions from this analysis:

  1. The set of protocols closely regulating LIS probably contributes to the relatively constant cost. To improve efficiency and cut costs, either the protocols will need revision or future surveys will need to reduce the implementation of only the most essential protocol elements. This poses a dilemma: Reworking the protocols is likely to be slow and expensive, but surveys not in compliance are less likely to receive funding.
  2. First estimates of the overall cost of any future surveys can be made. The number of surveys that have run out of money suggest this could be useful. A better measurement of the likely cost-benefit before investing millions of dollars in a survey will result.
  3. As cost is related to the number of suspected positives and about half of these are found to be false positives, it seems that spending more time and effort on the initial data collection could be useful. If the number of false positives can be reduced, it is reasonable to assume that overall costs will also decrease. The Expert Opinion Collection is usually a relatively small part of the overall survey cost, so investing more resources on accurately collecting data early in the process may be a useful approach to improving the LIS cost-benefit ratio.
Table 1: Landmine Impact Survey costs available from reports found on http://www.sac-na.org.
(Click image to enlarge)
Table 1: Landmine Impact Survey costs available from reports found on http://www.sac-na.org.

Conclusion

The initial data collection in a LIS designates communities as potentially impacted by mines and UXO. Distinguishing between suspected positives and false positives early in the process can reduce the costs of the LIS. Based on analysis of the correlation between costs and suspected positives, evidence supports that efficient planning can reduce future survey expenses.

Given the small number of countries that still require a LIS, the outcome of this analysis can give better cost estimates to potential donors and identify the survey parts where savings are most probable in the future. At this stage, with so many Landmine Impact Surveys completed worldwide, rewriting the protocols is likely not useful. Focusing on more efficient implementation and collecting core data in different countries is a better route to cost savings overall. J


 

Biography

Russell GasserRussell Gasser is an engineer who became interested in mine action while helping start a wheelchair repair workshop in Nicaragua in the late 1980s. He returned to Warwick University Development Technology Unit in U.K., in 1996, to write a Ph.D. thesis about advanced technology research failing to deliver new demining tools and equipment. He received his Ph.D. in 2000. After three years working for the European Commission, he formed a consultancy, Humanitarian Technology Consulting Ltd., to provide mine-action program evaluation.


Russell Gasser, Ph.D.
Humanitarian Technology Consulting Ltd.
Alzey 55232 / Germany
Tel: +49 6731 547 1501
Fax: +49 6731 547 1503
E-mail: RG(at)htc.eu.com

Endnotes

  1. “Completed Surveys Overview.” Survey Action Center. http://www.sac-na.org/surveys_completed.html. Accessed 20 January 2011.
  2. “How it works.” Survey Action Center. 17 May 2004. http://www.sac-na.org/surveys_works.html. Accessed 20 January 2011.
  3. “Surveys – Ongoing Survey – Somalia.” Survey Action Center. http://sac-na.org/surveys_somalia.html. Accessed 21 January 2011.