In accordance with the relevant decisions of the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on their Destruction, the Standing Committee of Experts on Technologies for Mine Action (SCETMA) held its second inter-sessional meeting on May 24-25, 2000 at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Geneva. More than 80 experts, including representatives of States Parties and non-States Parties, international organizations, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and other non-governmental organizations, national mine action centers or programs, universities, research centers and industries took part in open and in-depth discussions on all the issues relevant to the SCETMA.
In conformity with the mandate and guidelines agreed during the Maputo Conference, and following a first intersessional meeting dedicated to the analysis of the needs expressed by the end-users, the constraints as they are perceived by both the deminers and the researchers, and the identification of practical conclusions in terms of priorities. the SCETMA focused for its second meeting on the information of deminers and deciders on technologies presently or soon available, on the new standards to be implemented, and on the axes of research which to day appear to be most promising in the medium term.
All participants insisted that there was no silver bullet and that neither manual demining, nor dogs or mechanical equipment taken separately was the solution to the landmine problem. Rather, all these technologies had to be considered as complementary elements of a tool box, to be mobilized in accordance with the particular conditions and environment of every minefield/mine action program and after a dedicated evaluation process has been conducted.
1. Technologies indispensable to deminers
1.1. Personal protection equipment (PPE)
GICHD presented the need to review standards for PPE with a view to ease their enforcement : new standards had to be based on an analysis of the risk associated with each type of environment and PPE subsequently adapted - taking into account operational procedures - in order to lower the risk of incident. Protection against blasts needed to be strenghtened and integrated in tools (build-in approach). Fragmentation posed specific problems, as it affects secondary victims as much as the deminer.
The Monitoring, Evaluation and Training Agency (META) insisted on the need to think PPE in relation with the position adopted by the deminer/supervisor/operator of mechanical equipment to clear mines in a specific environment. PPE level of protection had improved dramatically ; though often hot and heavy, they had to be used more systematically by all operators.
HI-Kosovo made a presentation of PPE currently used by all its deminers. Since the early 90s, many improvements had been brought in order to extend protection to the full body : complete arm protection, protection of throat/neck, armpits, femoral arteries, use of a "trip-wire proof" 360° protection, systematic use of specifically designed shoes.
C-MAC indicated what had been its own priorities in the field of PPE : increased protection of the head (helmet, visor), of the body, then of the legs (deminers in prone position) ; all PPE had to be submitted to tests in the field by end-users.
1.2. Mine detecting dogs (MDD)
UNMAS and GICHD stressed the present contradiction between the use in many fields of MDD as major detection tools and the lack of existing standards concerning MDD. In order to better assess the effectiveness of MDD, a series of 8 studies will be conducted in order to first produce a set of interim standards and then evaluate them in the light of more comprehensive data, dealing with every aspect of MDD (breeding, training, environment influence, detectability of mines, tripwires...).
HI presented its own experience with MDD, insisting on the need for strict accreditation procedures : HI had built its own testing scheme in order to guarantee the quality of the dogs supplied before and during mines clearance operations. HI regretted the fact that many providers/users of MDD do not submit their dogs to such tests and UN procedures of accreditation.
University of Western Australia (UWA) underlined the current lack of reliable data on MDD as many different factors influence the performance of dogs. In order to fill this gap, further research had to be conducted, including "double blind tests" for the dog and its supervisor (estimated cost/time : 1,2MUS$ for 18 months).
MAP-Afghanistan presented its own experience with building a national capacity in MDD, from breeding and training to effective use in the field and evaluation. Though there were limitations to the use of dogs (vegetation, winds, high density of mines...), MDD were fast and effective provided they were assigned appropriate tasks (area reduction, mine clearance in low-density mined areas(1mine/5m 2)).
1.3. Information technologies
GICHD made a presentation of the latest developments of the IMSMA database developed on behalf of UNMAS. IMSMA's capacity to gather multiple information and to compile it has been increased, allowing dynamic presentations of progress in mine action in the field. A UN Headquarter module is presently developed with a view to compile information from different databases. Further developments have been engaged in the field of digital mapping and statistics. IMSMA is currently used in Azerbaijan, Chad, Estonia, Kosovo, Mozambique and Yemen.
James Madison University presented its initiative of a "Global Mine Action Information Coordination Workshop", trying to promote interconnections between the different databases and information technologies available. JMU's presentation underlined the great diversity of information related to humanitarian demining (level 1 an 2 studies, follow-up of demining operations, training, R&D...).
End-users, such as MAP-Afghanistan and HI-Kosovo expressed support for IMSMA as a useful tool for deminers, but insisted on the need to preserve a end-user friendly approach : only useful and relevant information, and not all information available, had to be put in IMSMA. Further efforts had to be conducted on the issue of digital maps.
UWA expressed satisfaction concerning recent improvements of the IMSMA database. Some issues still had to be tackled, such as the difficulty to update data through internet in some fields, or the cost of transfering information contained in other databases to IMSMA.
1.4. Mechanical equipment
HI introduced and handed out a comprehensive report, entitled "The Use of Mechanical Means for Humanitarian Demining", focusing on "what works today" in the field and for a given environment.
Bipalog made a presentation of the mechanical equipment it has designed (the Minecat) with a view to answer to some of the needs expressed by deminers : relatively small, versatile equipment, spare parts available worldwide, high level of protection for the operator.
CROMAC explained its approach towards mechanical equipment : looking for a mean both fast and associated with low risk for the operator, and taking into account the characteristics of minefields and mine action in Croatia, it had developed its own light (2 tonnes) mechanical equipment.
Mechem presented its own experience in the field concerning the respective merits of light and heavy equipment. If heavy mechanical equipement may not be used everywhere efficiently (problems of transportation, possible damages to infrastructures, high investment cost...), it can prove effective when assigned appropriate tasks (excavation, vegetation-cutting and other preparations of the field, road clearance...).
For Mozambique, NDI expressed support to this approach and insisted on the need to integrate the selection of appropriate mechanical equipment in the early stage of demining planification.
This last view was also supported by MAP-Afghanistan and C-MAC, who also stressed the need for improved procedures for testing in the field, greater versatility of equipment (multi-purpose platforms) and increased in-country sustainability of purchased/leased equipment.
2. Norms and standards
UNMAS and GICHD made a presentation of the current review of UN standards. The first UN standards on mine clearance had been published in March 1997, and UNMAS undertook their review in 1999. The aim was to set a complete framework of revised standards, most of which had some implication for technology in mine clearance. End-users were and would systematically be associated with this review process, so that their experience of demining in the most difficult environments is duly taken into account. The new UN standards would be ISO compatible, allowing potential users to clearly identify/discriminate requirements, recommandations and options, provisions and information. A first set of standards would be ready from september 2000, standards for MMD and mechanical equipment being delivered at a later stage (mid 2001).
While wide support was expressed for the ongoing process of review of UN standards undertaken by UNMAS with the help of GICHD, several questions were raised by participants (HI, Mechem, MAP-Afghanistan, UWA):
- who will be responsible for implementing these standards ? National authorities in mine affected countries, donors, operators in the field, UN agencies, or all stakeholders .
- how to control in the field the correct implementation of UN standards ? Participants agreed on the need to define a system to control the quality of demining operations in the light of UN standards. Views were exchanged on several propositions : establishment of an independent monitoring body, definition of procedures for random sampling, control on the basis of registered detectable "targets" scattered in minefields prior to mine clearance operations (UWA)...
Sayed Aqa presented the concept of "Level 1 impact survey" as a tool to assess the global effect of mine action on people living ine mine affected areas. A first test, currently undertaken in Yemen , was already providing significant information. Several participants expressed support for this new approach to evaluate mine action.
3. Promising technologies
For the first time, IAEA made a presentation of its research activities in the field of equipment and technology for mine action. Technologies based on neutron activation, such as "pulsed fast thermal neutron analysis" or "neutron back-scattering" offer good perspectives for the detection of explosives, and may be further adapted in order to detect antipersonnel landmines. IAEA is presently looking for a State in Europe , where to test these technologies in the field.
UWA presented a study on the steps to be taken in order to improve productivity of mine action in the next few years, taking into account economic constraints such as the lack of funds for humanitarian demining and associated R&D. The achievement of many small improvements in the working environment of deminers - better PPE, better quality of handtools, but also of drinking water and basic infrastructure, better training and better procedures - was essential.
GICHD explained that some operators had been disappointed by the slower progress in the development of new technologies, compared to the progress in the exploitation and refinement of existing technologies. Yet, some of these new technologies, such as ground penetrating radars, neutron quadripolar resonance, vapor sensors or airborne detection technologies, were now close to the field. Thus it was essential to inform deminers on these technologies and to promote early tests in the field.
The Royal Military Academy of Belgium insisted on the need to increase cross-communication between academics and deminers : research needed large amounts of data in order to validate concepts, and e.g. increase sensitivity of detectors, obtain a better discrimination between mines and other objects, allow effective data fusion for multiple sensors detectors...
Other promising technologies for the longer term in the field of mine detection were : infra-red systems, microwave radiometer and X-ray fluorescence. Remote detection (from airborne systems or from satellites) shall also be considered, though access to space imagery is often still restricted.
All participants recognized that the gap between researchers and deminers in the field had to be reduced. The contribution of cooperative networks, such as ITEP, aimed at avoiding duplications in R&D programs and at strengthening the relationship between the R&D establishment and the end-users, was also acknowledgeded.