Andy Smith
Mine action specialist
Humanitarian Mine Action

Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) is much more than simply the location and removal of all explosive hazards from defined areas (which is Humanitarian Demining, HD). HMA is explained to the best of my ability in this PDF paper.

HMA began as an idealistic goal pursued by people with a dream. Perhaps inevitably, as it became an industry it became dominated by people with bureaucratic skills rather than relevant field experience. Those supporting HMA from offices are almost all on a career path that requires them to somehow 'improve efficiency'. Efficiency is generally taken to mean making the work on the ground faster and cheaper because increased speed and reduced cost can be readily reduced to numbers that can be both measured and manipulated. Thankfully, there are still some who seek to improve efficiency in terms of improving the safety of those doing the work and the safety of the people who will use the land when they have finished, but the achievements of these goals is much harder to record in spreadsheet statistics, so less attractive to those seeking to tick boxes and earn praise. We cannot measure improvements in safety easily because it is not possible to record an accident that did not happen. Also, no one can show a definite reduction in accidents involving deminers, or involving civilians on land released for civil use, because these events are rarely recorded and when they are recorded, the records are not collected together. Without a complete record of the accidents that occur and those times when demining procedures fail to leave the land safe for people to use, there is no hard evidence that something has made the work safer. However, even the partial record which does exist does mean that there is often compelling evidence that the efforts of those striving to reduce cost and increase speed have sometimes made it far more hazardous than it need be for all concerned.

Every few years a new cohort of eager new experts try to cut the same corners in pursuit of efficiency. A recurrent example is the claim that you can survey an area to find out whether it is contaminated with explosive hazards using methods that are known not to find everything, so cannot be used when an area needs to be thoroughly searched and cleared. The use of a single dog to search in undergrowth, the use of rats, and the use of a machine to process the ground surface are examples of methods that cannot search and clear any ground to the standard required, and which have been known to leave all explosive hazards behind. Nonetheless, in 2019 people at GICHD are again claiming that these methods can be used to find out whether an area needs to be searched and cleared. And when the method finds nothing, the land is released and the statistics for 'land release' improve. These people act as though the 'humanitarian' requirement of HMA is entirely optional. This is a point of view that I do not respect so I have tried to ensure that it is absent from this website.