4.20.2019

Commemorating the 20th year since the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) took effect Mine action 2


On 1 March 1999, the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) entered into force, prohibiting the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines and calling for the destruction of all stockpiles, the clearance of all mined areas. Since this marks the 20th year since it took effect, Seiji KONNO, programme coordinator, who is in charge of mine action at Tokyo office, provides general information on mine action and mine clearance in this issue.

Click here for Mine action 1



Who is clearing landmines?

Mine clearance is crucial to mine action.

 Mines will never disappear unless we clear them. In theory, there will be no victims if we continue our efforts to clear mines. In fact, in Mozambique they can now expect economic growth by starting agriculture and dairy farming, using the land where they had been clearing mines for over 20 years.

Besides the support from several experts from abroad, most of the clearance is carried out by the local people recruited and trained by the organizations specializing in mine clearance. Women as well as men are involved in this activity, and they are the ones who support their family by the income earned through this activity. We can provide more jobs for local people by cutting down on the number of experts from abroad, who are paid a lot of money. 

Amelia, one of the mine clearance staff from Mozambique. This was taken when she cleared the last mine

How are mines cleared?

 Clearing mines is one of “3K jobs” – the term used in Japan to refer to a hard, dirty, and dangerous job. Wearing a heavy personal protective gear and a visor (a facial mask for protection), deminers work in the scorching heat for many hours from early in the morning, cutting weeds and looking for metal chips with the detector. Since this activity is extremely risky, deminers have to be very careful at all times, which makes them quite exhausted.  When I took part in the actual mine clearing activity myself, as the only Japanese representative from AAR, I felt suffocated by wearing the heavy protective gear, and I became exhausted by working in the heat and in an intense atmosphere.

Let me explain to you the nature of mine clearance. First, we check an area of one meter in width and 40 centimeters in length plus a patch of 10 centimeters to see whether any mine is buried, using a metal detector. This is repeated more than three times. If there is no response to the detector, we check another area with the same procedure. If there is a response, we put a sign in front of the area, identifying the spot, and start digging the ground.

To avoid accidents, detailed guidelines and instructions are provided based on the international criteria designated by the UN and the ones set by the organizations in charge of mine clearance in each country. Since deminers are engaged in activities that require concentration and utmost care, they take a 10-minute break after working for 30 minutes in order to prevent an accident from happening due to a lack of concentration.

Having said that, accidents do happen, which is why we always have medical staff on standby and a means of transport (such as a car). We also have a training session for transporting the injured if an accident occurs.

One of the AAR staff, Seiji Konno, engaged in mine clearance with heavy protective gear and a suffocating visor in the Autonomous Province of Kosovo (now Republic of Kosovo)

Threat of Improvised Explosive Device (IED)

 As a principle, we must comply with the procedures as described above. Detecting anti-personnel mines and destroying them is not that difficult, because anti-personnel mines and UXOs are similar in shape, size, the amount and the kind of explosives inside, and how to activate or clear them. However, what is an issue in our international community right now is how we can clear an Improvised Explosive Device (known as an IED). This is not as easy.

IEDs comes in many forms. Some are planted in shells or anti-tank mines, and some in plastic containers used to put kerosene in. In some cases, electronic devices such as a cellular phone are used as detonators. Also, IEDs are buried in all kinds of places, such as in the ground or along the street, so it is very difficult to detect them. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), where AAR plays an active role, publishes their annual report containing the information on the use of mines and the number of victims each year along with the situations concerning mine clearance. According to their 2017 issue, out of the 2,300 deaths and injuries reported in Afghanistan in 2017, as many as 1,093 people fell victim to IEDs, which is in stark contrast with the number of victims to anti-personnel mines: 62. The victims of IEDs are extensive, and one of the biggest challenges in humanitarian aid is that IEDs have prevented refugees from repatriating.

An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) planted in yellow plastic containers
     (Pictures provided by the HALO TRUST)

Ensure the safety of land 

What is important in mine clearance is how much land we have transformed into safe land, not how many landmines we have cleared. Even if there are only one or two mines planted in spacious land, we are hesitant to use it until we can make sure that the land is mine-free. It matters a lot how badly people were affected.

I have been asked, “Can’t you clear mines more effectively using machinery?”  Of course, we use machinery where possible, but there are many suspected minefields where machinery cannot be used, such as on the mountain. Also, if machinery should miss even one landmine, it would lead to a disaster. It is necessary to make sure that the land is
mine-free, so that local people can live in peace.


One of the mine clearance staff working in the scorching heat to make sure that there is no mine left in the area


Maps don’t help

Where anti-personnel mines are planted varies from place to place in conflict-affected areas.
The Autonomous Province of Kosovo (now the Republic of Kosovo), where I was engaged in mine clearance in 2000, had maps indicating the spots where mines were planted.  Thanks to these maps, mine clearance activities went smoothly. However, there were cases where mines exploded in unexpected places that were not indicated on the map and we had to clear mines all over again. We cannot always assume that maps are reliable.  Also, there are areas where maps are not available. According to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (Protocol II)   adopted by the UN, “Mines shall be laid with regularity and the location of minefields and mines shall be recorded with maps and landmarks”. However, there are few areas where this regulation is observed.

As you can see, mine clearance is a time-consuming, challenging activity that requires a lot of effort, money and time, but AAR would like to continue this activity in partnership with mine clearance organizations.


Reporter 


Seiji KONNO, Tokyo Office
For ten months, starting in April 2000, he was on assignment with the mine clearance NGO “HALO Trust”, engaged in UXO/mine clearance work. Afterwards, he oversaw mine action, public awareness training, and emergency aid at AAR Japan until March of 2008. After leaving AAR Japan, became a certified Social Worker and certified Psychiatric Social Worker. After working at an international NGO overseas focused on support for those with disabilities, domestic social welfare, and support for children, he returned to AAR Japan in February 2018. He is from Ibaraki Prefecture.  (Profile as of the date of the article.)

Japanese-English translation by Ms. Yoko NATSUME

This article has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Japan's Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.