Locating Landmines and UXO:
A Methodological Lesson from the Ethiopian Landmine Impact Survey

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One of the most important parts about implementing effective Landmine Impact Surveys is first identifying which communities have a landmine/UXO problem. The author describes how Expert Opinion Collection (EOC) is used in Ethiopia to overcome the obstacles survey teams face when gathering their information.

by Michael L. Fleisher, Ph.D., Deputy Team Leader/Operations Manager, Ethiopian Landmine Impact Survey


Hand-Grenade victims in Kobo woreda.

In every country where a Landmine Impact Survey is being implemented, those charged with conducting it are faced with the challenge of compiling a reliable list of the communities that need surveying—because before a community can be surveyed to assess the landmine/UXO impact, it must first be accurately identified as a community having a landmine/UXO problem.
Owing to its vast size and its ongoing, highly variegated conflict history, Ethiopia presents Landmine Impact surveyors with particularly daunting difficulties. The Italian invasion of the 1930s; Eritrea’s protracted, and ultimately successful, war for independence; the 1990s Ogaden war with Somalia; the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF’s) successful revolution to topple the Marxist Dergue regime; the recently concluded trench war with Eritrea; and the still-simmering internal conflicts with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF)—any and all of these must be regarded as potential contributors to Ethiopia’s landmine/UXO legacy.

To make matters still more complicated, the country’s arduous terrain and poor-to-nonexistent roads make travel in the rural areas problematic in the best of times and, in innumerable areas during the long rainy season, all but impossible. Even in salubrious weather, many Ethiopian communities are accessible only by foot or by mule. The task of determining where the landmines/UXO are, so as to be able to formulate a complete, reliable list of landmine/UXO-affected communities for impact surveying, is not an easy one.

The technique developed for surmounting this problem, EOC entails gathering information from all available sources—civilian government administrators, military authorities, UN agencies, IGOs and NGOs, in-country scholars and so on—and using this information to compile a gazetteer of the affected communities to be surveyed. However, because time and resources are inevitably limited, survey teams are pressed to devise methodologies that will enable them to separate the landmine/UXO-affected communities from the non-affected communities as quickly and as efficiently as possible. To accomplish this, they must first devise a strategy that will enable them to determine where the most thorough, most reliable information regarding the locations of landmines/UXO may be obtained and how to acquire this intelligence as swiftly, systematically and cost-effectively as possible.

This article aims to facilitate this information-gathering process for all countries undergoing Landmine Impact Surveys by sharing some lessons learned by the Ethiopian Landmine Impact Survey (ELIS), which is currently being carried out by Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), under the auspices of the Survey Action Center (SAC), in Washington, D.C., and in close partnership with the Ethiopian Mine Action Office (EMAO), in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopian Survey Efforts

In Ethiopia, the survey’s efforts are mainly focused on the five regions of the country’s 11 that are regarded as being the most highly suspect for landmine/UXO contamination: Tigray, Amhara, Afar, Oromiya and the Ethiopian Somali National Regional State. However, because the ELIS’s mandate is to cover the entire country, none of Ethiopia’s other six regions may be neglected. Each of Ethiopia’s regions is divided into zones; the zones, in turn, are divided into districts (woredas); the districts are divided into sub-districts (kebeles); and the sub-districts are divided into sub-kebeles (tabia, but baito in Tigray region), which are in turn made up of “communities” (sing. got; pl. gotoch), although “community” is not an official administrative unit.

What is desirable in terms of both economy and efficiency, assuming it is possible, is to pinpoint an administrative level at which sufficiently thorough and accurate information regarding the presence or absence of landmines/UXO may be acquired. In the ideal world, we would hope to acquire all of the landmine/UXO data we needed at the national level without leaving the capital, but this ideal state of affairs does not exist in Ethiopia, nor has it existed in any of the other countries where Landmine Impact Surveys have been carried out. Experience has shown, in fact, that the highest, most inclusive administrative level at which generally reliable information may be found is the district.

In November/December 2001, an Advance Survey Mission (ASM) to Ethiopia, on behalf of the ELIS, identified approximately 5,000 of the country’s 26,000 kebeles as being possibly affected by landmines/UXO. Four months later, the ELIS survey team set about the task of establishing the number of affected kebeles more precisely so as to be able to quantify Ethiopia’s landmine/UXO problem as accurately as possible for the purpose of formulating a viable countrywide Landmine Impact Survey strategy.

Demolished Dergue Tanks in Kobo woreda.

In April/May 2002, ELIS field staff carried out a 17-day field assessment in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, one of the five highly suspect regions, with the following twin goals:

1) Acquiring firsthand knowledge of the magnitude of the landmine/UXO problem in the landmine/UXO-suspect corridors northbound from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to the Tigray region.
2) Evaluating the reliability and specificity of information concerning the landmine/UXO situation at the regional, zonal, woreda and kebele levels of Ethiopian governmental administration.

Requests and Responses

After having consulted with officials at the regional level and after having selected one of Amhara region’s 11 zones—North Wollo—for rapid assessment (RA), the ELIS staff visited eight of the zone’s nine woredas for consultations with woreda administrators. In the course of this effort, the following request list for woreda administrators was developed and employed (Figure 1).

Figure 1.

(To Be Recited Orally)

Sir/Gentlemen, we would be very grateful if you could provide for us the following:
1) A list of all the kebeles in your woreda;
2) That the list of kebeles be marked to indicate, for each kebele, whether you and your fellow woreda officials consider it to be affected (A), possibly affected (PA), or not affected (NA) by landmines/UXO;
3) That you indicate, on the kebele list, the kebeles that are not accessible by car and also by what means it is possible to get there—i.e., whether by motorcycle, on foot, and/or by mule—and also the approximate length of time it will take to travel to each one from [insert town name], the woreda center;
4) That you provide a list of all the landmine/UXO accidents that have occurred in your woreda;
5) That you facilitate our meeting and talking with any landmine/UXO victims in your woreda, as well as any persons whether inside or outside your administration who might possess useful knowledge of the landmine/UXO situation here;
6) That you provide us with a letter of permission and introduction to all of the kebeles in your woreda requesting their full cooperation in carrying out our work;
7) And that you provide us with a police guide to help us find our way to the various woredas. (This guide should not be dressed in a police uniform.)
8) We would also appreciate your opinion as to whether, in the future, with sufficient advance warning, and at our expense, it might be possible for you to bring informants from remote kebeles into [name town], the woreda center, to enable us to interview them here.
9) And I would like to provide you with my contact information in Addis Ababa to enable you to contact me in the event you have any additional information on the landmine/UXO situation in your woreda.

In response, the woreda administration provided the ELIS team with a kebele list. Here is the list provided for Wadla woreda, North Wollo zone (Figure 2).

Figure 2.

Armed with such lists, the ELIS team conducted interviews with the residents of more than 50 kebeles, including those that woreda-level administrators had deemed to be landmine/UXO positive and others they had labeled as negative, in order to formulate as reliable an assessment as possible of the landmine/UXO threat in this area.

The RA strategy then employed was one of visiting and conducting a group interview at every kebele that had been labeled either as positive or suspect for landmines/UXO by its woreda administration—except in those few cases where the distance and/or relative inaccessibility of a kebele rendered an interview visit impractical given the time constraints of this mission. The team also visited as many non-suspect kebeles as possible, in an opportunistic manner, in an effort to identify false negatives. Significantly, out of the more than 50 kebeles interviewed, not a single false negative was found. Although woreda administrators sometimes identified a kebele as positive for landmines/UXO, only to be contradicted by kebele interviewees, they never once identified a kebele as negative for landmines/UXO that turned out to be positive. (It is false negatives that pose a serious threat to the integrity of the ELIS, not false positives—because a false negative, if left uncorrected, represents a threat to the lives of people endangered by landmines/UXO in their communities, whereas a false positive will invariably be surveyed and, as a consequence, changed to a negative.)

The Kebele Interview

In this work, the following schedule of kebele interview questions was utilized:

1) Are there any landmines in this kebele?
2) Are there any UXO in this kebele?
3) Have there ever been any landmine/UXO accidents in this kebele?
4) If yes, please tell us when and where they occurred; what the circumstances were; what kinds of landmines/UXO were involved; and whether any person(s) or animal(s) were killed or injured.
5) Are there any areas in your kebele where people are afraid to go because they fear that there may possibly be landmines or UXO in those areas?
6) If there are any such areas in your kebele, can you take us to these areas or describe them to us?
7) How many gotoch are there in your kebele?
8) Are all the answers that you have given us about the presence/absence of landmines/UXO in your community also true of all of the other gotoch in your kebele? Or would the people in these other gotoch perhaps give different answers to our questions?
9) What is the name of your got?
10) Has there ever been any fighting between the Dergue and the EPRDF in this kebele?
11) Do you think that any of the kebeles that are adjacent to your own kebele might possibly be contaminated with landmines/UXO?
12) If so, please name those kebeles.


The results of this mission strongly suggest that the landmine/UXO problem in the Amhara region is not nearly as pronounced as the original worst-case estimates had suggested. The team uncovered no evidence whatsoever of there being a landmine problem in this zone, and no evidence of a UXO problem apart from the presence of hand grenades, which have been responsible for the vast majority of the UXO incidents there.
The ELIS field staff has urged the adoption of a program of hand-grenade awareness and clearance to deal with this problem.

The ELIS assessment also produced valuable evidence that information collected at the woreda level is of satisfactory reliability and specificity to ensure the ELIS’s requirements of thoroughness and accuracy. Although administrators at the woreda level occasionally erred on the side of pronouncing a kebele in their area of administration to be definitely or possibly landmine/UXO-affected and it turned out not to be (i.e., this kebele turned out to be a false positive for the woreda administration), they never erred on the side of pronouncing a kebele to be free of landmine/UXO contamination and it turned out not to be (i.e., the kebele administrations produced no false negatives). This is an extraordinarily positive sign.

Further assessment work still needs to be done, however, to determine whether the results derived for North Wollo also hold true for Amhara region’s other 10 zones—and also to gauge the landmine/UXO threat in Ethiopia’s four remaining highly suspect regions as well as in the six other regions that are so far not suspect.

This assessment has had (and will continue to have) profound implications for the ELIS. Had the worst-case estimates of the ASM proven accurate, some 5,000 kebeles, and an estimated 10,000 gotoch within those kebeles, would have had to be surveyed, a task of such magnitude that it would have exceeded the capacity of the ELIS team to carry out the survey within existing time, money and manpower constraints by a wide margin. Our hopes when we planned the North Wollo field assessment were the following:

1) Evidence would emerge suggesting that the magnitude of the landmine/UXO problem along the Addis-to-Tigray corridors might be far less than worst-case estimates had suggested.
2) The assessments of government officials, at least at the woreda level, would be sufficiently accurate and well-informed to obviate the necessity of carrying out RA survey work at the kebele and got levels. We now feel that significant progress has been made toward achieving these goals.


EOC is a worthwhile, eminently practical and extremely valuable technique, but like any research method, it is valuable only to the extent that it generates accurate, verifiable data. The experience of the ELIS team in North Wollo argues strongly for thorough verification/authentication of expert opinion obtained at the higher administrative tiers—in the ELIS case, the woreda—through sensitive but rigorous interviewing of ordinary citizens at the kebele/got level, where people’s lives are at stake.

*All photographs courtesy of Nils Jorgensen, GIS Specialist, Ethiopian Landmine Impact Survey

Contact Information

Michael L. Fleisher, Ph.D.
Deputy Team Leader/ Operations Manager
Ethiopian Landmine Impact Survey
P.O. Box 60300
Addis Ababa, ETHIOPIA
Phone: (251-1) 62-68-38
E-mail: m.fleisher@juno.com

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