Mine Action - The Management of Risk
By Mr. Steve Brown
Issue 3.1 | February 1999
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The examination of "Standards and Measures of Success" at the recent Humanitarian
Demining Conference, hosted by James Madison University (JMU) demonstrated
that there must be fundamental changes in the approach to Mine Action if the
global influence of land mines is to be successfully challenged. In addressing
the need to measure the effectiveness of Mine Action we are acknowledging
that the current situation is untenable, particularly if we are to get anywhere
near the eradication of the problem by 2010.
While most agree that deadline is unattainable it does help focus our efforts
on improving the rate and cost effectiveness of Mine Action, particularly
the mine clearance element. However even if the levels of increased funding
currently promised are achieved and with even the most promising detection
technology a long way off, as the Second International Conference on the Detection
of Abandoned Land Mines showed, our resources are totally inadequate in comparison
with the scale of the problem, if clearance methods and rates remain unchanged.
This paper will advance the view that the key to achieving the breakthrough
lies in a risk management process with a more realistic, some might say, pragmatic,
approach to mine clearance using existing resources and technology. In doing
so we must challenge our existing preconceptions about what is both possible
and desirable and call into question some of the myths which are currently
viewed as fact by the decision makers at all levels of Mine Action.
Myth or Fact?
The JMU Conference consensus was that many of the existing International
Standards for Mine Clearance are poorly conceived, unrealistic, unattainable,
and not measurable; more often than not, observed only in the breach. The
proposed UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) review will, hopefully, arrive at
more realistic and enforceable standards and, as importantly, look at ways
of more uniformly implementing them. Areas of particular concern are clearance
depths, personal protection equipment, the use of mechanical equipment and
the "dreaded" 99.6% clearance standard. The assessment of clearance standards
is one of the greatest myths associated with mine clearance. The term >mine
clearance = itself engenders a belief that the process does, and must, result
in areas being totally cleared of mines. The reality is of course, that, although
we strive for 100% clearance, we rarely achieve that level because of the
combination of a number of factors that impinge on and degrade the process
but are beyond the scope of this paper.
In some ways the professional mine clearance community has abrogated its
responsibilities in this area. By allowing the 99.6% figure, which was not
based on any proper analysis of what is currently achievable or being achieved,
to be set in stone, we have allowed donors and end users to continue to believe
that the standard is always being achieved and that anything less is unacceptable.
It is also conventional wisdom that such high clearance standards can only
be achieved by conventional manual clearance and that other detection and
clearance methods, particularly mechanical clearance, can not achieve the
required standards. Figures for mechanical clearance quote clearance levels
of only at 75-90% (depending on who has provided the analysis, where, against
what system and what agenda they were working to). Just as the 99.6% figure
was "plucked from the air" so are these figures, based as they often are on
results achieved by inappropriate equipment, used in inappropriate ways and
in inappropriate conditions.
Even if we accept these disparities on face value the use of mechanical methods
has the potential to so increase our clearance rates that we must reconsider
their utility overcoming any shortcomings through better management, better
selection of equipment against the requirement, the use of multiple passes
or multiple equipment and the better management of the residual risk of this
and, indeed, any clearance programme.
The mine clearance process does not eliminate the mine threat. It is a risk
management tool that reduces the risk from mines to acceptable levels. What
are those acceptable levels, how are they measured and how do we manage that
What is Risk Management?
Risk management is the process of identifying, assessing and addressing risks
allowing operational decisions to be made that balance risk costs against
benefits. Risk compares the probability of an event occurring and the severity
of the outcome if it happens. Risk management will aim to reduce one or both
of these factors to levels at which their effect can be discounted, accepted
or mitigated through other precautions.
This process can be summarised by a risk assessment matrix such as that shown
in figure 1.
Mine Action aims to reduce the impact of mines on the social and economic
well-being of the affected country. If we reduce the level of risk, by reducing
but not, necessarily, eliminating all mines, so that it falls within the last
two columns of the above matrix, we now have a manageable residual risk. This
can really only achieved by reducing the numbers of mines present or by preventing
the exposure of individuals to mined areas by controls or education. The severity
of a mine incident is largely governed by the design of the mine, we can only
mitigate its effects by providing enhanced medical support and other victim
support measures. For mine clearance operators, however, good procedures,
protective equipment and the use of mechanical clearance or stand-off detection
can influence both dimensions.
Each function of Mine Action and each process within those functions should
include risk assessment and its own risk management process. Risk management
is continuous, subject to review and alteration as the situation changes,
more information becomes available and lessons are learnt. This concept is
summarised in the table at Figure 2.
In terms of mine action the risk management process can be considered in
- Phase 1 Identify the quantity, nature and extent of the mine hazard.
- Phase 2 Assess the impact of the mine hazard in order to take timely,
efficient and effective measures against it.
- Phase 3 Develop a mine action programme which, in line with the national
recovery plan, puts in place appropriate plans and decisions to address
the risk and balance it against humanitarian, political, economic and environmental
- Phase 4 Implement the mine action plan.
- Phase 5 Evaluate all elements of the mine action plan including measures
of effectiveness and lessons learnt.
- Phase 6 Assess and manage the residual risk against acceptable criteria.
The Residual Risk
In Humanitarian Mine Action what is the acceptable residual risk? The current
mind set, particularly among donors, end users and non-mine clearance NGOs,
is that the level is zero. Morally and emotionally this is understandable
but is unsustainable in practical terms.
Even if we achieve 99.6%, and many programmes do not, there is already residual
risk. But do we have the safeguards to manage that risk? We generally do not,
because we allow end users to persist in the misconception that the problem
has been eliminated and we are afraid to acknowledge that it has not. The
mitigating measures to further reduce the risk, such as post-clearance mine
awareness, are currently rarely provided. In Western Europe the residual risk
from both mines and unexploded ordnance originating from World Wars I and
II persists today. The reality is that mine affected countries will always
remain mine affected and must learn to live with that legacy. In the above
table it should be noted that the author believes there should be, three phases
of Mines Awareness training before, during and, most particularly after mine
clearance in order to address the residual risk from the process.
Eventually a cost and risk analysis must be made that results in practical
levels of mine action, completed in as short a time as possible and that results
in manageable, but not zero, residual risk. In order to illustrate this concept
look at the cost and risk analysis model below.
Cost and Risk Analysis Model
This is a fictitious case, but which is based on sustainable representative
figures. It compares the performance of a totally manual programme against
a mainly mechanical programme. It does not enumerate mitigating factors such
as mine awareness training and, for ease, assumes linear progression of statistics.
Within these shortcomings it illustrates effectively the major impact that
mechanical clearance can make. This is summarised in the table below. It considers
a mine-affected area of some 1,200 square kilometres in which one casualty
is being taken for every 10 square kilometres each year. A typical manual
clearance programme could clear 100 square kilometres each year at a cost
of US $5 million a year. Casualties from within the programme are taken as
one a year and the national clearance standard is 99.6%. Over eight years
following the completion of the task a further five casualties can be expected
from the 0.4% of mines that remain, representing the residual risk.
Taking the same base figures for a mechanical clearance programme it assumes
that mechanical systems can clear at three times the manual rate and at half
the unit cost. These are conservative when taken against claims from some
mechanical projects of 6-10 times the manual rate at a quarter of the unit
cost. A lower figure has been taken to allow for a multiple pass or multiple
machine operation supported by conventional quality control using dogs and/or
manual teams to give a clearance standard of a nominal 95%.
Over a twenty year period from the start of the programme the manual clearance
will take 12 years to complete at a cost of US $60 Million. Casualties from
mine affected areas, among mine clearers and those from the residual risk
would be almost 800. In contrast the mechanical programme would be completed
in four years at half the cost and with half the number of casualties over
the same twenty year period, even accepting the higher level of residual risk.
This simplified cost and risk analysis does not include consideration of
the accelerated socio-economic benefits obtained by completing the programme
so much earlier. It does, however, highlight the fact that the residual risk
between 99.6% and 95% is manageable and identifiable. Risk management would
allow procedures to be used that would mitigate and hence reduce these casualty
If Mine Action is to accelerate to the necessary levels to meet, or at least
approach, the 2010 deadline then fundamental changes to the perceptions and
approach of donors, end users and the mine action community are necessary.
We are promised increased funding but unless our philosophy and techniques
change this will be insufficient. Technology improvements are incremental
and slow in coming.
The key is proper Risk Analysis and Management to make informed decisions
on what can be achieved with existing techniques. We have to accept that risks
cannot be eliminated, however much we think they can, but manageable residual
risk can be achieved by the increased use of mechanical equipment. This will
allow more cost effective and timely achievement of the global mine action