Humanitarian Mine Action refers to all five “pillars of mine action” in the “Ottawa Convention on the prohibition…etc” otherwise known as the “Mine Ban Treaty”. These cover everything from demining to trying to persuade governments to sign up to the treaty. Article 6 of the Mine Ban Treaty includes an obligation to share technology… but there is precious little evidence of that happening. So how is it that R&D in our industry seems to be moribund and that we have no capacity to independently test and evaluate new technologies? The latest UN strategy on Mine Action does not mention R&D at all despite the fact that some R&D is happening and some testing is done. Unfortunately the test results are often subject to censorship and even those results are rarely shared openly.
After the 11th of the 9th, the entire world turned its attention away from Humanitarian Demining - and R&D into anything that was not military/security orientated all but stopped. It was not only the changed concept of “security” that caused interest to wane, it was also the fact that a decade of research money and expansive promises had not led to any significant breakthroughs. Consequently, there was very little real difference between the tools and equipment used in demining in 1995 and 2005. The metal-detectors had improved greatly and some PPE was worn but little else had changed. Between 2005 and 2015 there were even fewer improvements.
I maintained an interest in R&D because I had a background which included working with universities and working in undeveloped countries. I knew how hard it was going to be to find new technologies that were really useful in mine action and I knew that it would require a team effort – a swarm of agile brains battling ludicrous ideas around until something gelled.... I also knew that researchers had to “talk-up” the potential to get funding in order to find out whether there was any potential at all – so I did not feel personally betrayed by their broken promises.
On the up side, ten years after the 11th of the 9th, the Europeans funded a new round of R&D in support of Mine Action – looking into such things as drone-camera survey, use of Google Earth style GIS systems, innovative training packages for deminers and Mine Risk Education recipients, remote detection technologies, multi-sensor detectors, robots, bees, vapour sensing technology and small demining machines. Despite attracting derision from some of the bureaucrats who think they are in charge, a few of these have real potential – which is a higher promise of success than I have seen in any previous R&D programme for Mine Action.
We need R&D because the work of clearing up after conflict is only a short-term emergency problem in any one place. Globally, it is a long-term problem that will inflict casualties for generations to come. The lessons we learn today will continue to have relevance for the foreseeable future, regardless of treaties and political agreements.
For more about the potential for R&D success, here is a paper I presented in Croatia in 2015.