Andy Smith
Mine action specialist

Lack of essential safety data...

Andy Smith, 2019

Safety in Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) is concerned with the safety of the people in the areas we work and with the safety of the people we employ to do the work, the deminers. Everything reasonable must be done to ensure that risks are 'tolerable' which, in a humanitarian context, must mean either avoided or minimised. Are we doing that? Sadly, the answer is "No".

For more than ten years I have been told by the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) that it is not possible for them to do anything about gathering relevant safety data. Apparently there is no money in gathering data about accidents and missed explosive hazards left on land that should not have been declared 'clear' or 'released'. Without this data we cannot know how well we are doing or identify potential ways to improve. The Intenational Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is the main reason that HMA exists, so I wrote to the ICBL and presented a paper to them for consideration - and eventually got a polite reply saying in effect that my concerns were right, but not their responsibility.

In 2017 I had the opportunity to speak at the CTRO demining symposium in Croatia which, amongst other things, was celebrating 20 years of the ICBL under the heading "Twenty years of the Ottawa Convention - achievements and challenges". Knowing a significant 'challenge', I gave a presentation and submitted a paper questioning whether the requirements to gather and share data that are part of the Mine Ban Treaty were being met. My presentation was well received - and I was thanked by several who appreciated my being honest about the emperor's lack of clothes. However, the Director of GICHD objected to my presentation and paper and complained to CTRO because it was critical of them. GICHD did not try to explain how the criticism was unjust, probably because it isn't. CTRO politely regretted that GICHD was offended but declined to act as a censor of facts that Geneva finds uncomfortable. So, Croatia upheld free speech and defended the people HMA serves (both the public and the deminers) while Geneva sought a redaction that would obscure their own failings.

In late 2018 a new home for my database of accidents ( was found in the data repository at James Madison University. At the start of 2019, the transfer of records had been completed and work had begun on updating the old software and designing a new user interface. Accident and missed-hazard data is now being gathered alongside demining accident data. As always, no identifiers are ever published.

Perhaps predictably, as soon as the database of accidents found a new home, GICHD started planning to start its own accident database. This would be in collaboration with the Mines Advisory Group, the HALO Trust and Norwegian Peoples' Aid. These are the three biggest 'not for profit' actors in mine action and two of them have demonstrated no interest in gathering or sharing accident and incident records in the past. To expect them to honestly and objectively investigate their own safety failings when they have not done so to date would seem a little optimistic if it were not obvious that this was really only a manoeuvre designed to allow them to conceal failings and continue as before.

Click here to read my CTRO slide show converted into a PDF file.

Click here to read the paper that is in the Symposium Book of Papers (longer, with fewer pictures than the slide show), also as a PDF file.