Andy Smith
MIne-action specialist

HMA (Humanitarian Mine Action) - glossary of terms


Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA):
This is an expression that has been adopted since 2000 as a blanket term to cover all of the following activities:-

Some in the industry now link HMA with small-arms and light-weapons control and the management of munitions, and this can be appropriate when national authorities sanction these activities.

BAC - Battle-Area-Clearance: A visual search process that raises confidence that an area is free from ERW without applying full Clearance processes. BAC cannot be used where the Task Assessment determines that there may be any mines or other pressure/movement sensitive hazards.

BACS – Battle-Area-Clearance Subsurface: A rapid search process involving the use of metal-detectors that raises confidence that an area is risk free from ERW without applying full Clearance processes. BACS cannot be used where the Task Assessment determines that there may be any mines or other pressure/movement sensitive hazards.

CHA - Confirmed Hazardous Area: Following the 2009 Land Release IMAS, this is an area in which there is compelling evidence of their being explosive hazards. It is not necessarily a well defined area.

Clearance, Cleared-area, [mine-Clearance]: Following the IMAS, an area can only be called “Clear” when it has been subjected to processing that ensures the discovery and removal of all mines and ERW to a specified depth. That depth must be determined during the Task Assessment and must be varied if devices are discovered at unexpected depths as a Task progresses. If the depth searched/processed using any one process is less than the requirement, additional processes must be applied to gain confidence that thorough search to the required depth has been achieved and all explosive hazards removed before the area can be declared “Clear”.

Devices: Sometimes called "threats" or "hazards" the word "devices" refers to all explosive devices and so covers all mines and ERW.

DHA - Defined Hazardous Area: Following the Land Release IMAS, this is a well defined area in which there is compelling evidence of their being explosive hazards. An area can often only become genuinely "defined" after searching it, so a DHA should be flexible and its boundaries may change as work progresses (which makes the word 'defined' something of a misnomer).

ERW - Explosive remnants of War: Technically the terms covers mines and all other ordnance fired, fuzed or otherwise that may remain after a conflict. Following a strange definition adoption for the "Convention on Conventional Weapons"(CCW), the term ERW is increasingly used to cover all explosive items dealt with during demining which are not mines exept cluster munitions which are mentioned separately. In this website, I refer to mines and call other explosive hazards ERW.

Hazard: Either the risk presented by the threat and its condition and context when deploying any specific demining procedure (the risk may be high or lower depending on the procedure selected), or the threat itself: the device.

Humanitarian Demining (HD): This is explained throughout this website (see Humanitarian Mine Action). The expression "Humanitarian Demining" should not be understood literally. The expression comprises two words, neither of which is necessarily appropriate. Often the primary motivation for funding demining in a country is political rather than humanitarian. Also, deminers are required under International Standards (IMAS) to remove all explosive remnants of war, not just mines. In many places other ordnance greatly outnumbers the mines. So "Humanitarian Demining" does not mean anything as simple as mine-clearance to protect the innocent. Often, "Humanitarian Demining" might be better called "Politically motivated post-conflict remediation", but the accuracy of that phrase would sacrifice the "feel-good" fluffiness now associated with "Humanitarian Demining".

Humanitarian Deminers: Deminers are people whose main activity during a working day is the physical seach for and recovery/destruction of ERW items. Humanitarian deminers can only work on land that has a civilian use (not military areas). In most countries, deminers are local people. Their organisers and trainers may be foreign specialists. Those foreign specialists are not deminers unless their main activity during a working day is the physical seach for and recovery/destruction of ERW items. The foreign specialists are often called Technical Advisors.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs): Refugees who have not crossed a National border are IDPs and so are not protected by the articles under the refugee convention "monitored" by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) which was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The 1951 refugee Convention is available through the UNHCR site.

IMAS: International Mine Action Standards. A comprehensive set of guidelines intended to ensure that HMA activities are conducted and recorded with appropriate rigour. For a brief history of the IMAS and their recent decline, see The death of IMAS.

MIne Awareness (MA);
Mine Risk Education (MRE);
Mine Risk Reduction Education (MRRE):
All these refer to the same thing, which is any means of informing civilians about the risks in their areas and changing their behaviour so that they avoid or reduce risk taking activities. Frequently carried out by people who despise landmines to the extent that they will not learn about them, the effort is often ridiculed by those with a more hands-on approach. MRE can range from telling new arrivals (IDPs) in an area where the minefields are (obviously useful as long as the teacher has accurate information) to making TV cartoons about the generic dangers of ERW. The relevance of the latter to people living in places with no power (limited access to TV), with a specific ERW problem and where tribal languages prevail, may be "questionable". That people engage in MRRE without understanding the risks or the context in which a lesson will be applied is unfortunate. The best MRE must have saved lives. The worst have just cost money.... but that is also true of the worst demining programmes.

MDD - Mine Detection Dog: An MDD (also known as an Explosive Detection Dog, EDD) is a dog that has been trained to detect various target substances related to mines and ERW. The target substances include specific Anti-tank and Anti-personnel mines, certain types and quantities of explosives, surface and sub-surface ordnance, and fragments of mines and UXO. Dogs may be trained to detect many articles from hand-guns and ammunition to raw explosive, but the training process is not simple. See Using MDD in Humanitarian Demining..

MDD Handler: A person who has been trained and certified to work with MDD using the processes and procedures described in the MDD SOP. Handlers must also be experienced in the maintenance of their MDDs’ health and hygiene.

MDD Set: An MDD and its MDD Handler. A Handler may have two or more MDD, each of which is a separate MDD Set. Both Handlers and MDD must be suitably trained and accredited for the duties they will perform.

Mine hunting: Once ridiculed and considered unprofessional, this describes the process of seeking the mines, rather than searching the whole suspected area. It is now common to seek methods of finding mine-lines and clearing that area while leaving uncleared as much of the orginally suspect land as possible. The land that is not searched and cleared may be subjected to confidence building procedures, such as running a machine over the ground or making a visual check. In many cases it is simply "cancelled" because there is no longer any reason to believe that there is a threat there. There is NKT (No Known Threat).

No Known Threat (NKT): no compelling reason to believe there is a threat from mines and ERW to people in an area. This means than an area previously recorded as a Suspected Hazardous Area (SHA) can be released without being subjected to thorough search and clearance processes. The release of areas previously recorded as hazardous without having processed the land with any thorough search techniques is usually referred to as "Area-reduction" of Area Cancellation and is part of Land Release.

Known Threat (KT): compelling reason to believe there is a risk to people in an area. This means that the area must be subjected to appropriate search and clearance processes before being released for public use.

No Immediate Threat (NIT): no compelling reason to believe that any threat there may be in an area adversely effects people at this time. A Known Threat area may also be an NIR area. This means that the area can be given a low priority in a list of demining tasks that is prioritised according to their impact on people.

Perceived Threat (PT): PT occurs when people believe that there is a threat but there is no compelling evidence to support their belief. In this case, area-reduction and/or confidence building processes can be appropriately deployed. The priority given to this kind of task will be dictated entirely by the "impact" that the demining work will have on people wanting to use the land.

SHA - suspected Hazardous Area (SHA): Following the Land Release IMAS, this is an area resulting from previous surveys where there may be a hazard. Further non-technical survey should be conducted to determine whether thorough seach and clearance demining assets are really needed in the area.

Technical Advisors (TAs): Also Chief Technical Advisors (CTAs), Senior Technical Advisors (STAs), etc. A Technical Advisor is an honorific that may be borne by people with no relevant technical skills and who play a commanding rather than advisory role. Equally, the title may be borne by people who do have some relevant technical skills and may work to an advisory remit. The term is broadly applied to any ex-patriot staff member regardless of their skills and competences and so may, or may not, be a misnomer. A Technical Advisor's presence may be required to give a donor confidence of a demining group's probity, or may be required to provide essential training in some aspects of Humanitarian Demining. In my experience, young Technical Advisors usually lack the relevant skills and training to enable them to be able to train local staff in safe demining practices. When Technical Advisors are seconded from serving military forces (frequent within UN circles) or recruited directly from the armed services, their presence is part of their own training and is very rarely of any advantage at all to deminers in the field. When Technical Advisors are appointed because of their experience within serving military units, their appointment is, in my opinion, misguided. However, many learn on the job and do well.

Threat: The actual device(s) that present an explosive risk. These may be mines or other Explosive Remnants of War (ERW). The word does not appear in the IMAS. The word "Hazard" is used instead, and this causes confusion between hazards, hazardous areas, dangers and dangerous areas. The word "Threat" has been deleted from early versions of the IMAS in order to comply with ISO norms, but its absence often makes the language ambiguous and confusing.



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