Who Needs Them?
Dennis Barlow, Director
Issue 4.1 | February 2000 | Information in this issue may be outdated. Click here to link to the most recent issue.
The global Mine Action process seems to spawn conferences. During the past
three years there have been at least thirteen major gatherings, which contained
in their agendas, major activities dedicated to improving demining operations.
What have the three years of meetings, issue development, and projects produced?
Have the conferences and attempts to frame operatorsí needs been a wasted
effort, characterized by travel boondoggles of innumerable representatives
to venues far and wide? Or have they driven real development and positive
Meet or Not To Meet
are invariably those attending the conferences who have, formally or informally,
decried the proliferation of these meetings and stated that the money spent
to hold them would be better spent on direct support to a demining operation.
While these utterances are viscerally tempting, and momentarily dramatic,
I believe that this kind of blanket condemnation of demining workshops, conferences,
and seminars is off the mark.
MAIC at JMU has attended, hosted, and participated in numerous conferences
and workshops, which have addressed this key issues of humanitarian demining,
especially the core issue of how we discern and meet the needs of demining
operators. JMU has reported the issues, concerns, and suggestions from these
efforts and has provided, in some cases, processed that information for input
into other events and venues where it has been developed further. I believe
that the dialog, actions, learning, networking, coordination, learning, and
appreciation, which have resulted from these meetings have stimulated the
demining process and facilitated much progress.
on the End User
is the end user? Three years ago, we would have said that he is the mine clearer;
the "guy at the pointy end of the stick." Today there are still
those who insist that the operator who performs mine clearance is THE end
user, and that technology is (or should be) aimed solely at his activities.
While there is a competing point of view which defends that while the landmine
clearer remains the central focus of technology improvements and enhancements,
the wide range of activities which are encompassed by the concept of Mine
Action, have also broadened the identification of an "end user."
in the demining community, acknowledge that those engaged in direct support
of the "deminer" also require equipment and technology advances
based on their unique needs. Personnel who mark and monitor mined areas, dog
handlers, mine action center managers, and medical support personnel (paramedics),
are but a few of the non-clearance operators who are often included in the
list of mine action end users. Whether advances toward better geographic information
systems (GIS) packages, dog-handling techniques, or MEDEVAC systems, technological
advances which improve any aspect of the mine action project will enhance
the entire demining program.
believe that this trend reflects, not only the integrative and comprehensive
nature of Mine Action, as it is now understood. It also accepts the reality
that demining must be considered as part of a developmental process which
must proceed in the context of other activities and infrastructure enhancement
Technologists, and Policymakers
the international effort to identify operational needs was gearing up, several
dynamics became obvious. Perhaps the most apparent was a gulf which existed
among the major demining groups . Operators did not feel that they were heard.
Technologists did not understand the world of the deminer. Policy makers were
trying to fulfill the demands of high politics while trying to understand
the parameters of operators and technologists.
operators were not always in consonance with other operators. NGO operators
were wary of "for-profits," while they were suspicious of the practices
(motives?) of military elements assigned to humanitarian demining missions.
It even turned out that deminers from various regions had different needs
than those in other areas; e.g. deminers in Southeast Asia have a vastly different
set of needs than those in Northeast Africa.
the frantic conference and meeting schedule of the past three years has had
an immensely beneficial effect on melding, if not the motivations, than at
least their knowledge of the capabilities and limitations of each constituent
group. Whatís more, it seems as if the suspicion, which once hall-marked the
relationships among operators, "techies" and policy-makers, has
largely dissipated, being replaced by a healthy respect for the tasks of each
of the groups, and has engendered a feeling of kinship and empathy among groups
working the demining issue.
set of commonly held beliefs early in the process, was that all that was needed
was an accurate sense of what the operators needed, and everything would just
fall into place. Slowly the realization hit home that no one was, or could
be, in charge, and that testing, evaluation, selection, and deployment do
not just happen. Humanitarian demining efforts are not like unified military
operations; humanitarian demining embraces a host of very diverse functions,
organizations, climates, societal needs, and countries. Therefore, no one
operator, technician, or decision-maker can declare what will be universally
acceptable or appropriate.
order to develop procedures by which needs are identified and fulfilled by
a research program, which leads to efficient procurement and deployment, universally
accepted means of communicating, coordinating, and collaborating are necessary.
To that end, the International Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA) is
dedicated, as is the nascent Demining Technical Information Forum (DTIF),
and indeed several formal and informal communications and coordination efforts
which have been suggested at humanitarian demining meetings over the last
among demining communities has blossomed during this time. With the increased
communications networks (the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian
Demining (GIC), the MAIC at JMU, the Joint Research Center (JRC), the Canadian
Center for Mine Action Technology (CCMAT),etc. have come increased understanding
and collaboration of global partners who have been able to focus more effectively
on improving the safety and effectiveness of the end user.
Expansion of Needs
years ago, a demining operator might create a list of needs, which would today
look pretty modest. As mine action plans have become more ambitious and sophisticated,
they encompass a greater degree of integration with other programs, and are
coordinated with other demining functions. The operatorís needs have grown.
He has also become aware of emerging and pertinent technologies and has learned
how to leverage his methods with others and with new capabilities. The deminer,
in short, has learned to apply new methods and equipment to his requirements.
We should applaud this development, because, while it makes pinning down his
needs more difficult, it allows us to strive for ever more effective and dynamic
ways of meeting the challenges of mine action operations.
users now need effective mine dogs, reliable information and data base systems,
dedicated GIS packages, better prostheses and procedures, and on it goes.
The knowledge of these improvements and how they can be fitted to operational
requirements has come about largely through the interchange of ideas which
has taken place during the "show and tell" portions of the conferences
and meetings summarized above.
one of the most encouraging and demonstrable sets of results of the actions
of the Mine Action community, has been the creation of a number of programs
and initiatives designed to facilitate identifying and satisfying the needs
of the operator.
DTIF is a collective and creative outreach, which should provide a universally
accessible source for demining technonlogy information.
"Rapid Prototyping" program underway at Ft. Belvoir (under the auspices
of the U.S. Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations
and Low-Intensity Conflict) is not only determining and verifying end user
needs, but is putting the most promising technologies which are applicable
to meeting them, on a fast-track.
Survey Action Center (SAC) and IMSMA are programs aimed directly at meeting
the information needs of deminers, which should make a significant impact
on management and preparation for their plans and operations.
demining management studies underway at Cranfield University should provide
a very real way of ascertaining and fulfilling operators needs, and of developing
a viable management training program.
Userís Focus Group assembled and working under the auspices of the UNMAS and
GIC, allows for operators to make a direct and timely impact on demining standards
have been times (many times!) during the past three years, when naysayers
and friends alike, have been critical of the international approach to demining.
They have glibly poked fun at the number of meetings, or scoffed at the seeming
impossibility of it all. Some wags even talked about creating an organization
for the ban of landmine conferences.
such derision ignores the great strides that have been made in making the
demining operator the center of a new and amazing cooperative effort to improve
his lot, as well as the vast amount of work, good will, and thinking that
has given rise to some rather remarkable international efforts. The advances
are not only noteworthy for what they have accomplished (and promise to),
but for the fact that they have come about purely voluntarily and without