Issue 6.1, April 2002
by J. J. van der Merwe, UNOPS
Some major developments have been made recently in the field of demining. The International Mine Clearance Standards for Humanitarian Mine Clearance Operations have been revised and updated to take into account the progress in the industry, and the first Level One Impact Survey was completed in Yemen. The information that has become available as a result of the survey provides a better definition of the mine problem in a specific country and also allows for a better method to prioritize and rank impacted communities.
Many mine clearance organizations have traditionally publicized their efforts by focusing on the number of mines or unexploded munitions that have been found. This is in reality as meaningless as assessing the effectiveness of the clearance operation based purely on its size. It is becoming better understood that mine clearance is as much or more about the elimination of the negative socio-economic impact on communities as it is about clearance of the actual contamination.
Experience over the past few years has indicated that within a zone of
probability for mine contamination in the majority of mine affected
countries, the majority of the ground is not mined. In addition, most of the
areas contain few mines. Out of the 18,000 mine records received from the
former warring factions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 60 percent of the records
indicated that the mined areas contained less than 10 mines, and in Yemen
the Level One Impact Survey concluded that there was approximately a 40
percent exaggeration of the actual size of the contaminated area. Therefore,
the faster the ground that is not mined is ruled out, the greater
productivity and the impact of the clearance efforts will be. Linked to the
need to rapidly rule out mine-free ground is the need to decide which ground
needs to be freed up first. The size of these areas is a function of the
subsequent users’ requirements. Defining the minimum areas ensures that mine
clearance resources are not committed to clearing any more ground than what
is actually required at the time. The Technical Survey, if applied in the
correct manner, will help provide answers to the issues raised above.
Recently, there have been a number of discussions on what can be achieved
practically in addressing a mine-affected country’s socio-economic problems
caused by mines and UXO. There has to be a balance among the time spent on
demining areas, the amount of impact being reduced and the amount of funds
available to carry out the task. At the strategic level, there are two
outcomes that could be sought. These two options are:
It is clearly beneficial to adopt the second option and address high-impact areas first and then proceed to address those areas more moderately impacted. Hazardous areas impacting communities should also be prioritized, and the solution selected to decrease the impact should be applicable to provide the greatest relief in the shortest time or in the most cost-effective manner.
The key for humanitarian mine clearance in the future is the accurate targeting and then the subsequent allocation of resources to address the problem in a safe, productive and cost-effective manner. Programs should ask themselves where they could achieve the greatest impact with the available demining resources. It is no longer an option to tie resources down for long periods of time if they are only working on one site. It might be better to work on a number of lower order tasks but have a high turnover. Targeting should be done at the macro and micro level. The result of the General Mine Action Assessment (GMAA) Process includes the socio-economic impact that the mines and UXO have on communities in an impact-priority list, which should be used to develop a clearance works program. The same should be done on the micro level. Identified tasks should be unraveled to reveal the most critical areas that should be cleared as a first priority and then clearance should expand to address the other less critical areas. As a first step, the less critical areas should be marked or fenced off.
The process for prioritization and selection of sites for demining can be
compared to a situation in which a medical doctor arrives at an accident
scene finding a number of injured patients. Before any patient is treated, a
doctor must assess each of their injuries. Patients are then divided into
two groups: those with minor injuries and those with serious,
life-threatening injuries. The injuries on these patients are then treated
in order of priority, meaning some minor injuries might be left while the
doctor moves on to another patient to treat cardiac injuries, loss of blood
and pulmonary injuries. Targeting for mine clearance operations should
follow the same principles. Communities are ranked according to the presence
of mines/UXO, the number of “blockages” and the number of recent victims. In
addition, there might be development priorities that the government has
identified that also have to be taken into account before the final priority
list can be produced. In order to prepare the work plan there should be
another step similar to when the doctor in the example above takes the pulse
of the patient, which is to carry out a Technical Survey to collect specific
information on the suspect area.
To date, prioritization and clearance have generally been aimed at individual mined areas. With the introduction of the GMAA process, which includes an assessment on the socio-economic impact, there has been a shift in focus towards impacted communities. The old Level Two Surveys, by default, became associated with area reduction, and only after the area was reduced was an attempt made to plan the clearance activity. IMAS now reflects changes to operational procedures, practices and norms that have occurred over the past three years, and in a number of cases where new terminology was created, it also included an expansion of the old definitions. The changes in the different surveys and assessments are one example in which not only were the old terms replaced, but the definitions have also expanded considerably. The main differences between the old Level One and Two Surveys and the new Impact Assessments and Technical Surveys are outlined below:
Old Level One Survey: The objective of the old Level One General Survey was to collect information on the general locations of suspected or mined areas. Mined areas were prioritized according to the following criteria:
Old Level Two Survey: The objective of the old Level Two survey was to determine and delineate the perimeter of mined locations initially identified by an old Level One General Survey. The marked perimeter formed the area for future mine clearance operations. Where possible, with time and resources permitting, these teams should also undertake area reduction work in order to accurately define the outer perimeters of the mine field. Graphically, the old process can be described as shown in Figure 1.
New GMAA Process: The purpose of the GMAA process (IMAS 08.10) is to gather, evaluate, analyze and release sufficient information to assist the strategic planning of a national mine action program. The general mine action assessment produces two kinds of estimates:
The focus has also shifted from individual mined areas to communities impacted by the presence or perceived presence of mines. The prioritization process in this case is much broader and makes provision for a number of scenarios. In all cases, three aspects are taken into consideration to gauge the level of impact:
Neither the old Level One Survey nor the IMAS GMAA process involves entry into the hazardous area or any form of demining. The aim is purely to collect basic information on the approximate location and size of the suspect area and to define the impact of these contaminated areas on their respective communities.
New Technical Survey: The Technical Survey (IMAS 08.20) is the detailed technical and topographical investigation of known or suspected hazardous areas. Such areas may have been previously identified during the GMAA process (formerly called Level One Surveys) or otherwise reported. The primary aim of a Technical Survey is to collect sufficient information to more accurately define the clearance requirement, including the area(s) to be cleared, the depth of clearance, the local soil conditions and the vegetation characteristics.
Figure 2 describes graphically the order in which demining activities could be conducted using the Technical Survey as the foundation for planning actual operational activities.
The proposed process introduces the Technical Survey as a step between the National Survey and actual demining activities. The information obtained from a Technical Survey should be summarized in a survey report, which should be used as the technical specification for planning and managing a subsequent demining task. Although Technical Surveys precede demining activities, the two activities should not take place in tandem. Normally, once fully implemented, the Technical Survey teams would work approximately one demining season ahead of the demining teams. This would allow Mine Action Centers to plan future operations and prepare programs that would keep demining organizations occupied for a whole season at a time. It will also ensure that demining resources are utilized in the most productive, efficient manner and that the correct resources to manage the problem are used.
The disadvantages of the old process were:
Some might argue that this approach to the Technical Survey is introducing another step to the process, but in actuality, the new application will increase output, limit wasted resources due to decreased down time, and most importantly, provide relief to impacted communities in a very focused manner. The procedure will actually enhance the process and provide mine action authorities more control over demining activities since it will be a calculated step-by-step approach.
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