$50 Million Effort Needed to Speed Removal of Deadly Landmines in 90 Nations
February 18, 2003
A major research and development program costing about $50 million over five to eight years is needed to sharply accelerate efforts to remove deadly landmines that kill thousands of civilians each year in 90 nations, according to a RAND report issued today.
It could take about 450 years to remove all the abandoned landmines from current and past conflicts around the world if the current slow pace of landmine detection and removal continues, even if no new landmines are planted, according to the RAND Science and Technology Policy Institute report.
The report said research is needed to develop new technology than can replace the World War II-era equipment that remains the mainstay of worldwide efforts to remove landmines. Researchers cited the need for a new generation of landmine detectors that would be more accurate and reliable to speed landmine removal.
The U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President commissioned the RAND study, titled “Alternatives for Landmine Detection.” The study focuses on close-in detection of anti-personnel mines in post-conflict regions—so called “humanitarian de-mining.”
According to the report, current levels of funding are insufficient. In 2002, the United States invested only $2.7 million for research and development on hand-held detectors for humanitarian de-mining.
Landmines claimed between 150 and 300 victims per month in Afghanistan during 2000, half of them children. Earlier this year a U.S. soldier was injured clearing landmines in Afghanistan, one of the world's most heavily mined countries.
“There is a desperate need for better landmine detection equipment,” said Jacqueline MacDonald, a RAND engineer and co-author of the report. “Technology is available to create better tools to remove landmines, but nothing will be developed unless there is investment in a well-organized, focused research program.”
Researchers said today's landmine detection equipment is primitive, relying on technology that results in a high number of false alarms. Detectors used today operate via a technology that is unable to discriminate landmines from other metallic materials—by far the greatest limitation of the process.
For example, during humanitarian de-mining efforts in Cambodia from 1992 to 1998, only 90,000 of the 200 million items detected were anti-personnel mines or explosives.
After a time-consuming vegetation clearing process, buried metal items are detected by moving handheld mine detectors in a sweeping motion, followed by a lengthy and dangerous manual excavation. The arduous nature of de-mining creates worker fatigue that frequently results in human error. Missed mines are the second leading cause of worker injury among de-mining personnel in the field, accounting for more than one-quarter of accidents.
The RAND report concludes that no single mine detection technology exists that operates effectively against all mine types in all settings.
“There are too many variables affecting detection,” MacDonald said. “The variety and depths of mines, soil type, moisture, terrain, location, atmospheric conditions, and vegetation density all affect the probability of detection.”
In particular, plastic-encased mines are among the most difficult for a metal detector to identify, because of their low metallic content.
Because no single landmine sensor can find all types of mines in all environments while simultaneously decreasing the false alarm rate, researchers recommend creating a system that combines two or more technologies into a new landmine detection tool. Researchers also said an effective system will link data from various technologies as well as detect the chemical components of explosives.
“These systems would need to combine technologies that have distinct false alarm triggers and that key on different mine features, increasing the capability of finding a wider variety of mines and of operating effectively in a range of environments,” said J.R. Lockwood, a statistician and co-author of the RAND report.
RAND's Science and Technology Policy Institute is a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The institute undertook the study as part of its mission to conduct objective, independent research and analysis on public policy issues involving science and technology.