Urban Land Release in Libya: BAC and Land Release in Built-up Areas

by Robert Keeley [ RK Consulting, Ltd. ] - view pdf

This article's aim is to present several land-release principles for use in the battle-area clearance of Libya's built-up areas, also called Urban Land Release. Based on the practical, empirical experience of DanChurchAid, it is not intended as a one-size-fits-all solution to BAC task planning, but it may be helpful in other locations when compared with local knowledge of the situation on the ground. It does not apply to landmine clearance. BAC is the traditional means of clearing unexploded ordnance in open areas. Libya is now contaminated with UXO and explosive remnants of war as a result of the uprising that occurred in 2011. This article also examines the effectiveness of BAC as reconstruction occurs, particularly in Misrata, based on the experience of DanChurchAid deminers.

Examining UXO found during a BAC task. The item was hard to spot and is likely to have been missed by a previous search. All photos courtesy of the author.Examining UXO found during a BAC task. The item was hard to spot and is likely to have been missed by a previous search.
All photos courtesy of the author.

Humanitarian mine action produces two main outputs with a socioeconomic impact. The first is land release for subsequent safe use by the local population. This is the main output of landmine clearance and UXO clearance in areas contaminated by cluster munitions where the local population is unwilling to use the contaminated areas.

The second main impact is that HMA reduces the risk of death or explosive remnants of war injury. HMA activities, such as mobile explosive ordnance disposal teams and mine-risk education, do not clear land for safe use but reduce the risk of death and ERW injury by removing hazards and modifying the behavior of the local population, thereby reducing the probability of the incidence. Notably, the local population is rarely dissuaded from using areas by the threat of ERW. Hence, any HMA activities that are based on the land's wholesale clearance are not likely to impact the livelihoods of the local population, as people would have used the land anyway.

Amount of area cleared in hectares or square meters, while a useful measure of efficiency, is not a very useful measure of impact (see definitions in Table 1). Therefore, HMA teams operating in built-up areas should focus on activities optimized for ERW's safe removal. Initially, this may appear the same as BAC, but it is important to understand that BAC is an area-clearance tool, and area-clearance tools are used for hazard reduction. Although eventually effective—teams will find ERW—it is not always efficient, especially in situations where the density of ERW contamination is comparatively low.




The extent to which the aid activity is suited to the priorities and policies of the target group, recipient and donor.


The positive and negative changes produced by a development intervention, directly or indirectly, intended or unintended. This involves the main impacts and effects resulting from the activity on the local social, economic, environmental and other development indicators.


A measure of the extent to which an aid activity attains its objectives.


Efficiency measures the outputs—qualitative and quantitative—in relation to the inputs. It is an economic term which signifies that the aid uses the least costly resources possible to achieve the desired results. This generally requires comparing alternative approaches to achieveing the same outputs, to see if the most efficient process has been adopted.


Sustainability is concerned with measuring whether the benefits of an activity are likely to continue after donor funding has been withdrawn.

Table 1. OECD Development Evaluation Criteria.
All tables courtesy of the author.

Development Evaluation Criteria

A key concept referred to in this article is the development-evaluation criteria created by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Table 1 details these criteria and respective definitions.1 The most relevant terms in this document are impact, effectiveness and efficiency.

Land Release and Non-technical Survey

The humanitarian mine-action sector still struggles with defining the term land release. The Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining has released three new International Mine Action Standards on the subject. Although a direct reference to "land release" is constrained to a single footnote in only one IMAS, a recent meeting of the IMAS Review Board determined that considering a review of the relevant standards, IMAS 08.20–08.22, was still too soon.2 However, the mine-action sector's general consensus is that information-gathering and analysis techniques, such as Non-technical Survey, should be used to prioritize the use of technical resources in landmine-contaminated areas and these actions should have some sort of socioeconomic impact. Definitions of the three IMAS mentioned above are as follows:

Weapon Use in the Libyan Conflict

The fighting in Libya involved land-service ammunition with some air-delivered weapons and small arms and light weapons. Air strikes on existing Libyan Army ammunition-storage areas have scattered abandoned explosive ordnance and SA/LW ammunition, and caused significant contamination in the surrounding areas. The majority of the fighting was concentrated along nodal points, coast roads and around sites of particular interest, such as government buildings within town centers. Therefore, significant damage occurred in some areas, whereas other areas escaped unharmed.6

BAC in Libya

In Libya, much of the early humanitarian clearance work was conducted as the fighting continued and revolved around the BAC of urban areas, particularly in Misrata. Early work by international nongovernmental organizations showed that although a number of unexploded ordnance was identified, the amount was far less than what might be expected given the intense fighting. By talking to locals, it was learned that the local forces engaged in some informal UXO removal.

Although BAC can be conducted faster than demining, especially when it involves surface-visual clearance on hard surfaces, it remains slow and expensive. Clearing a city takes considerable time; the Joint Mine Action Coordination Team was originally tasked with clearing Misrata. The operation's relative costs and benefits were brought into particular focus given that a smaller-than-expected quantity of UXO was found. Therefore, it should be considered whether the principles of the emerging land-release concepts can be employed when focusing BAC efforts into areas containing UXO contamination and where its removal will have some socioeconomic impact.

Risk and Hazard. The discussions below depend on a mutual understanding of the formal definitions of risk and hazard, as follows:

This is usually described mathematically as: r=PixSo where r = risk, Pi equals the probability of the incidence and So is the severity of the outcome. In mine-action terms, risk can also be seen as a product of hazard x activity.

This means that removing the hazard can reduce the risk, or reducing the probability of an incident by modifying people's behavior (i.e., with mine-risk education). However, the converse must also be true: Risk is not actually reduced when work is done to search areas that are subsequently found never to have had ERW contamination.

ERW and Casualties

One problem facing the HMA sector involves how to measure the impact of EOD teams, given that they do not clear land. The more UXO that is safely removed, the safer the population. However, measuring the productive value of cleared land is not so simple. Estimating the impact of EOD teams and UXO removal is possible, and an established mathematical relationship now links the number of UXO and the number of casualties.9 A mathematical function involves the percentage of ammunition that becomes UXO (commonly understood to be 10 percent), the percentage of UXO considered unsafe to move (and hence most likely to cause casualties) and the average number of UXO casualties per incident. In other words, the more ammunition used in a particular area, the more UXO that will remain in the area. As a result, more casualties will occur.

Figure 1. Wikipedia map of the battle of Misrata. <br/><em>Map courtesy of Wikipedia/CISR</em>.
(Click image to enlarge)
Figure 1. Wikipedia map of the battle of Misrata.
Map courtesy of Wikipedia/CISR.

Any land-release technique forcing the HMA teams to concentrate on maximum-impact areas will improve efficiency and will have more of an impact on donor funds. This has already occurred in Libya. Although Misrata was one of the most heavily contaminated areas in Libya, some areas did not see combat, and identifying Misrata's contamination was the first step in this identification process. By using local knowledge and information about the conduct of the fighting (see Figure 1), teams can improve this process. Other procedures can further focus the teams' attention on the areas where the fighting was heaviest.

UXO Scrap, Damage and Fragmentation

A simple proxy indicator of the probable density of ERW contamination will be the density of UXO scrap, which can be moved and is likely to decrease over time, and weapon damage to buildings, which includes fragmentation marks. This is a simple statement of proportion: The amount of fighting is proportional to the amount of building damage. Since the amount of ERW and the amount of fragmentation damage are both proportional to the severity of the fighting, using fragmentation as an indicator of ERW presence is statistically reasonable. As a general principle, one exploding weapon causes spalling/cratering over approximately one square meter (one square yard) and significant amounts of smaller fragmentation damage over an area of 100 sq m (120 sq yd).10

Experience From Misrata

Practical experience from Misrata supports a number of observations:

Figure 2. Distribution of battle damage around the focus of the fighting. The red line is a representation of how the density of damage is distributed across the battle area.<br/><em>Illustration courtesy of the author/CISR.</em>.
(Click image to enlarge)
Figure 2. Distribution of battle damage around the focus of the fighting. The red line is a representation of how the density of damage is distributed across the battle area.
Illustration courtesy of the author/CISR.






Days Worked



Area Cleared (Ha)



Items Found



Area Cleared per Day (Ha)



UXO per Day



UXO per Ha


Table 2. DCA BAC Data for August 2011.


Damage Category




Significant or total collapse resulting from repeated strikes. Significant amount of fragmentation or SA/LW strike damage.

Can be harder to search than buildings with moderate damage.


Some strikes on buildings resulting in noticeable damage, but no general collapse. Fragmentations or SA/LW strike damage present.



Some fragmentation marks on buildings. No significant damage.



No visible battle damage.


Table 3. Categorization of buildings by damage and fragmentation marks.

Damage Category




Reactive call-out only to spot tasks such as abandoned explosive ordnance or caches of SA/LW ammunition. Do not carry out prophylactic BAC.



As per Nil. In the event that some UXO reported then 'clear to fade.'



'Clear to fade' of UXO reported or 'clear to boundary' (of project) if area required in support of a funded development project. Clear as prophylactic BAC task when no severe areas left.



Carry out BAC tasks on severe areas as priority whan no EOD spot tasks reported. Clear to fade.

Consider mechanical assistance for searching rubble.

Table 4. Resource allocation in urban land release.






Priority One

Item of ERW reported as spot task



Strong in terms of both contamination and impact

Priority Two

BAC in support of funded development project



Strong in terms of potential impact. Moderate and severe areas only except where clearance is specifically funded.

Priority Three

BAC in 'Severe' areas



Most likely to be contaminated, but impact not so clarly measurable.

Priority Four

BAC in other areas



Consider relocating some teams to other regions if too many P4 tasks being undertaken.

Table 5. Prioritization in urban HMS.

Categorizing Explosive Fragmentation Battle Damage

If the above principles are operationalized for practical use in urban land release, identifying different categories of battle damage will be useful; this information could then be used to prioritize efforts and identify different technical interventions. This should assist in improving the allocation of resources to the problem and improve efficiency.

In Misrata, four categories of battle damage were identified. These are explained in Table 3.


One apparent limitation of using battle-damage evidence to cancel areas for BAC is that the outliers, i.e., the one-off item of UXO that was the only explosive-ordnance item to fall in an area of light or nil battle damage will not be found. Nor will this method find ERW caches in areas where no immediate fighting occurred.

The technique described is purely a method for categorizing buildings and surrounding areas based on the degree of battle damage. While this method is considered a useful means of categorizing areas, other data-gathering methods exist. For example, local knowledge may also highlight one-off ERW items (since abandoned ordnance is less likely to be as closely correlated with battle damage as is UXO) or identify buildings that were occupied by fighters but were less damaged. Table 4 shows how other factors can be incorporated as part of a resource-allocation process in urban land release.

On the other hand, BAC will not find all ERW in built-up areas. It will not work in abandoned or locked buildings, and even the best BAC searchers will not be likely to spot UXO in unusual locations. We know that from World War I and World War II small numbers of UXO plague Europe long after the wars. Therefore, assuming BAC activities in built-up areas have a risk-reduction output rather than area clearance is important. ERW reports can be used to modify the default-option response, which the damage category suggests.


The principles set out previously can prioritize HMA assets between EOD spot tasks and wide-ranging BAC tasks in built-up areas. Table 5 provides prioritization guidelines; these compare the type of task with likely attributes of contamination and impact. This can help determine whether multi-purpose HMA teams deploy as small, mobile EOD teams or should combine for area-clearance tasks.

Other Techniques

Marking. Not all abandoned buildings are freely accessible, which may mean that not all severely damaged buildings can be cleared during urban BAC activity, and some contamination may not be found during prophylactic BAC searches. Improving BAC effectiveness in terms of contamination and impact is possible by the use (in Libya) of simple add-on stickers in Arabic and English, including a message similar to that in Figure 3.11 These stickers should help improve the impact of HMA activity and will help the local population when they encounter ERW.

To the occupier:
A search of the area around this building has been carried out for dangerous explosive items, but access to this property was not possible. If subsequently you find any items that you suspect might be an explosive item, contact us at [telephone number] and we will check it for you as soon as possible.

Please DO NOT touch the item yourself and please also make sure that no one else touches it in the meantime. Do not become a casualty.

Figure 3. Message to occupiers of a building in Misrata that could not be searched.

Human information. As implied in Table 4, collecting human information will be important. Using community-liaison teams to seek out human input on ERW is critical. MRE can help facilitate this but only when it includes information about how suspect ERW can be reported. MRE is more useful when a feedback loop is incorporated. Like the stickers on abandoned buildings, human input will help improve the impact of HMA activity as it will help the local population confront ERW.

Clearing to Fade. Clearing to fade is a concept whereby BAC teams search outward from ERW-contamination areas until they find no more contamination. Based on DCA's experience in Misrata, the approximate mean distance between UXO (in contaminated areas) is 25 m (27 yd). Therefore, the clearing-to-fade distance recommended here is 50 m (55 yd), or twice the average distance between UXO pieces in contaminated areas. Teams stop at least 50 m (55 yd) beyond the most recently found piece of UXO. The distance can be increased when practical, e.g., to extend the search by a few meters to allow a wall or road junction to act as a boundary.

Independent Confirmation

Produced by the French NGO Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED), a map served as independent confirmation of this hypothesis (see aerial photo. In order to plan possible aid interventions, this map showed battle-damage areas after an ACTED survey. Based on DCA's work conducted in August, the UXO data was superimposed on this map to show a high degree of correlation between UXO finds and battle damage. The few outliers are marked; they were explained previously.

The pink shaded area on the map was produced by Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development to show battle-damaged areas in Misrata. The red marks show where UXO was found by DCA in August 2011.
(Click image to enlarge)
The pink shaded area on the map was produced by Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development to show battle-damaged areas in Misrata. The red marks show where UXO was found by DCA in August 2011.

Resource Allocation Through Response-time Analysis

The information contained in Figure 5 is based on an approach called response-time analysis used by a number of countries, including Australia and the United Kingdom. Under such an approach, an average response time is set as a standard by the appropriating authority. This would be the expected time between an item of UXO being reported to the implementing agency and its mobile EOD team arriving to deal with the suspect item.

Given the time necessary to deal with an average find after the team arrives on site, and typical travel times between two separate locations, one could expect each team to deal with two separate UXO tasks each working day. This process allows analysis using the principles set out in Figure 5.

If EOD teams are each carrying out an average of two tasks per day and there is no backlog of tasks, then the number of teams available can be considered sufficient and their management efficient.

If EOD teams are carrying out an average of two tasks per day and there is a backlog of tasks, then the number of teams available may be insufficient, even if they are being managed efficiently.

If EOD teams are carrying out less than two tasks per day and there is no backlog of tasks, then there may be too many teams available (or a problem in the task reporting process).

If EOD teams are carrying out less than two tasks per day and there is a backlog of tasks, then it is likely that the teams are being managed inefficiently.

Figure 5. Principles for EOD response-time analysis.

This analysis can be carried out at a program level to determine whether there are sufficient EOD teams in the country, and repeated at a project level to establish whether the capacity is allocated efficiently between provinces or regions.


BAC is traditionally used in open areas and is conventionally considered a means to release land for subsequent safe use. DCA's experience in Libya in 2011, specifically in Misrata, suggests that BAC may not always be an efficient way of achieving a socioeconomic impact due to a number of confounding factors. These include the underestimated amount of UXO found and the large number of buildings not accessible to searchers. However, findings from initial DCA operations show a strong correlation between the degree of battle damage and the amount of UXO found. Therefore, using the degree of battle damage—supported by reports from the local population—should allow searchers to focus on reported ERW and on areas where ERW are most likely found within an urban land-release concept. Urban land release will not find all ERW, especially items of abandoned ordnance not found in the close proximity of battle areas. However, the comparatively small number of ERW found using conventional BAC reveals the importance of focusing activities in areas where ERW are most likely found. Support from enhanced MRE and community-liaison efforts will further improve the efficiency and impact of humanitarian mine-action activities in built-up areas.

Acknowledgements: This paper could not have been developed without input from all of DanChurchAid's Humanitarian Mine Action teams working in Misrata.



Robert KeeleyRobert Keeley, Director of RK Consulting Ltd., is a former British Army Bomb Disposal Officer who has worked in humanitarian mine-action since 1991. He was head of the United Nations Mine Action Centre in Croatia until 1997. He has also worked for Handicap International, European Landmine Solutions and has worked as a consultant since 2002. In 2010 he acted as the Chief Technical Adviser in Libya and in 2011 helped DanChurchAid run an EOD team there. Keeley has a doctorate in applied environmental economics from Imperial College London.

Contact Information

Dr. Robert Keeley
RK Consulting, Ltd.
PO Box 93262
Siem Reap Angkor Post Office
Siem Reap / Cambodia
Tel: +44 (0) 1233 888012
Fax: +44 (0) 8071 992064
Email: rkconsultingltd@gmail.com
Website: http://rk-consulting.net



  1. "DAC Criteria for Evaluating Development Assistance." OECD 50. http://www.oecd.org/document/22/0,2340,
    . Accessed 10 January 12.
  2. Indeed, the official list of mine-action definitions (IMAS 04.10) does not yet include definitions of either land release or Non-technical Survey. International Mine Action Standards. http://www.mineactionstandards.org/. Accessed 10 January 2012.
  3. IMAS 08.20: Technical Survey, First Edition, United Nations Mine Action Service, New York, NY. 10 June 2009. http://www.gichd.org/operations/land-release/imas-on-land-release/. Accessed 10 January 2012.
  4. IMAS 08.21: Non-technical Survey, Draft First Edition, United Nations Mine Action Service, New York, NY. 10 June 2009. http://www.gichd.org/lima/reports-publications/detail/publications/imas-0821-non-technical-survey/. Accessed 10 January 2012.
  5. IMAS 04.10: (Para 3.19): Glossary of Mine Action Terms, Definitions and Abbreviations, Second Edition, United Nations Mine Action Service, New York, NY. 1 January 2003. http://www.mineactionstandards.org/international-standards/imas-in-english/list-of-imas/. Accessed 10 January 2012.
  6. More information on the battle of Misrata can be found at "Battle of Misrata." Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Misrata. Accessed 10 January 2012.
  7. IMAS 04.10: (Para 3.226): Glossary of Mine Action Terms, Definitions and Abbreviations, Second Edition, United Nations Mine Action Service, New York, NY. 1 January 2003. http://www.mineactionstandards.org/international-standards/imas-in-english/list-of-imas/. Accessed 10 January 2012.
  8. IMAS 04.10: (Para 3.113): Glossary of Mine Action Terms, Definitions and Abbreviations, Second Edition, United Nations Mine Action Service, New York, NY. 1 January 2003. http://www.mineactionstandards.org/international-standards/imas-in-english/list-of-imas/. Accessed 10 January 2012.
  9. This work was quantified in "The Economics of Landmine Clearance" by R. Keeley, dissertation.de, 2006.
  10. This refers to explosive land-service ammunition, not aircraft bombs.
  11. Until very recently, using telephones in Misrata to report ERW was impossible, because the telephone network was inoperative.
  12. These principles were originally detailed in an evaluation of the mine-action sector in Cambodia carried out on behalf of UNDP in 2004 by two of the members of this Evaluation Team. Griffin, Robert and Robert Keeley. "Joint Evaluation of Mine Action in Cambodia." 2004.