Andy Smith
MIne-action
specialist
 

10 years of Humanitarian Demining….
Passion or profession?


August 2005

This paper has been written by Andy Smith and Dieter Guelle as a dialogue. The two authors have very different backgrounds, one as a development worker and the other as a former Officer in the East German Army, being 10 years in Russia and a short period in the Bundeswehr. They first met and clashed in Mozambique ten years ago. Over the years they have worked together frequently and learned to respect the other’s approach. In 2003 they collaborated on the Metal Detector Handbook for Humanitarian Demining, published by the EC (also available from the ITEP Website).

Andy Smith is an active member of the IMAS Review Board and recent consultant to GICHD, Technical Advisor for NPA, etc. He described his passion as “safety” and sees “honesty” as a necessary prerequisite for achieving safety. Currently he maintains the Database of Demining Accidents for UNMAS/GICHD.

Dieter Guelle worked as a Technical Advisor Technical Survey, Quality Assurance to UNADP and to the National Mine Action Authority in Mozambique for about 7 years, then served as Head of the ITEP Secretariat 2002/2004 and is currently with the JRC on metal-detector research working at JRC Ispra, in Italy. The views expressed by Dieter Guelle are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Commission, the Joint Research Centre or the Institute for Protection of the Citizen. Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on behalf of the Commission is responsible for the opinion given or its consequences.

 

ANDY: What happened to the passion Dieter? When I first handled a landmine, most in the industry were passionate about their involvement. Back in 1995 it was almost the only thing we had in common.

DIETER: That looks like going back a long time. I would not speak about it being a real industry at that time. It was really only attempts by different organisations to react appropriately to the “post-conflict situation”. Commercial and non-governmental organisations took over from UN task forces or supported them to reopen routes, return displaced persons and give safe access to power-lines and other essential items of infrastructure. The humanitarian demining of defensive minefields started when it was recognised that returnees would be resettled in dangerous areas. Many people who had never been displaced were living with similar threats. That was when we first really understood that it was mainly non-combatants who suffered, and they did not have the equipment or the experience to cope with the threat on their own. The warring parties who had created the situation turned their attention to securing the peace and had no time or money for mine clearance. Most of the organisations involved in road clearance, as the first task, did their job to the best of their knowledge at that time. Some of them told me later they will never do again road clearance with the knowledge they have today. Area clearance was the next step, and it was only much later that the need to prioritise clearance according to its impact was recognised.

ANDY: Yes. I suppose that our passion concealed a general lack of professionalism. It may be unpopular to say it, but few even had any real experience of the devices involved or the conflicts in which they were placed. None really knew how to clear ground with confidence. Under the guise of passion, charlatans, gold-diggers and the odd hero were able to ego-trip into demining legend. Some got rich. Many got wasted. A few died.

DIETER: I think that passion is dangerous and does not replace the need for rules about how to do things. The persons I knew in demining at that time were professionals in their area of knowledge and many of them were soldiers and had combat experiences. Most knew very well how to deal with mines. It was new that the deminers were doing something different to soldiers, and did not act as soldiers normally did. Many were former soldiers but with their work now directed towards supporting the direct interests of powerless civilians.

All right, yes, I also met the other kind of people that you list. These try their luck in every new activity in which the rules are not established. They were not really busy with clearance but tried as far a possible to stay away from it and just to get the hands on the money. Most of them were freelancers that were in charge of operations.

Two of them came and were asking for help to get established in Mozambique and as a person always ready to help newcomers, I agreed. They asked a few questions about demining but their main concern was how to get hold on an area to build up a chicken farm and to make a business. Anyone who has been in Africa knows that chicken is the most commonly eaten meat. This was not a subject about which I could help. Later I heard that they had gone far – all the way to court facing criminal charges brought by the donor.

But after ten years, I did not see anybody who became a millionaire by being involved in real mine clearance.

ANDY: I can think of several who are rich today Dieter, people whose assets make them dollar millionaires. But you are right that they are not really in the field, just minefield VIPs when they make flying visits with cameramen. And as far as ex-soldiers understanding the mines is concerned, well most of the mines were ex-Soviet and I frequently met Advisors who had never seen more than a photograph.

In those days, we told the world that clearing to a 30cm (12”) depth using Schiebel AN19s and 15cm (6”) bayonets was possible. In fact, clearance to 3cm was common. We claimed that flails and rollers, steel-wheels and tillers, impacters and processors could clear ground, and most of us hoped that this was true.

DIETER: Clearance depth of 30cm was before my involvement in setting standards, at that time, I trained surveyors for technical survey.

ANDY: Even in 1995, several of the big names were claiming 30cm and had been doing so for years. Even in Mozambique, ADP’s accident reports claimed a clearance depth of 30cm.

DIETER: You may be right. Nothing was easy to know. We had to try all the methods and machines to find out which could work in the right way. You could not just say they were not good without trials and we tested a machine in 1995 that was quite close to the latest models tested by ITEP.

ANDY: I cannot argue with the need for trials. But there were not many real trials. Most machine developers just made claims and waited for someone else to prove they were wrong.

A KMT5 roller system on an abandoned tank in Angola.

This is a Soviet KMT5 roller system on a tank in Southern Angola. In 1993 its rollers failed to detonate an anti-tank mine. The mine detonated beneath its tracks and the deminer inside was killed. The cost of importing it, deploying it and running it was high, but it did detonate a few mines. How many it missed will never be known. Its use had actually been prohibited before the accident, but it was still used until a deminer died.

DIETER: KMT5 rollers were designed to make the tracks free of mines. Soldiers following were supposed to only walk/use the paths left by the tracks. It was not designed to be used in clearance operations. In most cases it works as it was designed and it can be a useful tool. When I look at the picture the ground seems to be muddy, which is really not an ideal area for the deployment of tanks. A question is, was the tank still equipped as designed from underneath? Another, did the user leave the hatch-covers open to avoid overpressure? Normally a tank is withstanding the blast of an AT. There were also other mechanical techniques (mis-) used too that make mines more unstable than they had been before.

ANDY: I should not have forgotten that you would know this machine well. Yes, the ground was wet and yes, the removal of the barrel left the rotating floorplate insecure, but the floor armour was breached with a split maybe 30cm long. I believe that the hatch-covers were closed – which was thought safer.

Whether we used machines or ill-equipped men, the donors swallowed our rhetoric and funded clearance that was not thorough, not safe and not even marked to prevent the land being cleared again later. The cowboys had a free run. Those who pointed out the obvious shortcomings of the industry were often exiled. A few, including myself, achieved a sort of fame by bursting the bubbles of the pretenders, both dreamers and gold-diggers. It was not that I lacked passion, but I also believed that honesty was a necessary facet of professionalism.

DIETER: Yes, at the beginning it was much easier to establish projects and to get hold of money. But already in 1996 a first serious attempt to establish international rules was undertaken and supported by the donors. The conference in Copenhagen laid the basics for the first humanitarian demining standards. They were so obviously needed because so much was going on and the approaches for solving the problems were too varied.

ANDY: At that time, the Managers in demining were largely ex-military officers who seemed to me to be looking on with a cynical detachment. They knew that things were not right, but they were not hands-on people. They sought constraints to curb the excesses of passion and perfidy, without ever really understanding that we did not really know what we were doing on the ground. As officers, they just assumed that the foot-soldier knew his job.

DIETER: Training for demining was firstly carried out by soldiers and of course not necessarily by senior officers. Any SOPs, I saw, were based on military knowledge about mines because that was the only knowledge pool to draw on. The quality was different, the details as well but is was better than nothing – and far better than what I saw in demining organisations where no military experience was available to draw on. Remember that, at that time a group’s SOPs were secret and would never be given away.

ANDY: As late as 1999 I remember being refused sight of a group’s SOPs because of their commercial value. And I suppose they did have some value, if they were good. Every demining group I visited or worked with had a different idea about what constituted acceptable risk, safety and thorough clearance. Often the ideas were mutually exclusive – both could not be right – and wishful thinking prevailed. Passionate people did their best in difficult circumstances and berated each other as “cowboys”.

DIETER: Of course it could not have been any other way. Even today we struggle with some definitions and their interpretation. Clearance depth pains me even now. What is realistic? The easy answer is to hand over the decision to the national demining authorities, as has been done in Mozambique . The 130mm clearance depth they require (recommended since before 2000) is often not achievable when using metal-detectors to locate minimum metal mines. Allowing the demining group to make responsible and flexible decisions about a safe clearance depth based on the specific problem being faced today cannot be formalised because there is no body to establish and control it properly. Back to your statement, I agree that at that time nobody wanted people to look behind the facade of the organisation and operations. Often there was something to hide or just no understanding of how to do it better.

ANDY: Which is why, as you said, the Managers set up the 1996 Copenhagen conference to try to agree standards. It was a start, and those who attended were passionate. However, too little was really known about what the job involved and the standards that were produced were too constrained by received military wisdoms and cautious safety-margins to be practical. Even the UN groups of the time ignored those first unworkable UN standards.

DIETER: Andy, I think that is unfair. It was clear to normal thinking people that those standards had to be adapted to the local conditions and situation. This was my job in Mozambique when I was working for the national mine action authority, the National Demining Commission in 1997. I had later to carry this application through in a demining organisation with about 400 people in the field. It worked quite well with only a few changes.

ANDY: Ok Dieter, here are a few examples of those Copenhagen Standards being impractical:

ONE: There was a requirement to wear 13mm thick polycarbonate visors. In temperatures of 40+ degrees Centigrade with high humidity, deminers were working up to eight hours a day. The threat from devices was low, with small AP blast mines involved in most accidents. No one could do the work wearing that equipment. Few groups could have afforded it anyway. The result was that most groups (even UN controlled) wore 1.5mm safety spectacles and nothing else.

DIETER: This did not come In any standard as a requirement, did it? At least the requirements of the national Mozambican standards were much more adapted to reality. Eye protection was required without a definition to what level, the body protection was optional but if used it had to meet the recommended v50 rating. If I remember in the right way – the national rules, where they had been established, were overwriting the international.

ANDY: Yes Dieter, 13mm polycarbonate did come into the International standards. You should not be surprised if I can quote from the PPE requirements because you know that I was involved in designing PPE for local manufacture at the time. The UN’s International Standards for Humanitarian Mine Clearance, Section One, Safety, paragraph 1.6…. “Eye and face protection is to be provided by the use of a fragmentation visor. The visor must meet the minimum standard of personal protection which is to be capable of withstanding a v50 rating (dry) of 450 m/s for a 1.102g fragment (refer to STANAG 2920).” Manufacturers claim that a 13mm (or thicker) polycarbonate visor achieves this standard.

DIETER: Ok. Anyway, concerning the body protection I know that there are still discrepancies between overkill, and not enough safety if we look to the main threat for deminers which is blast. V50 rating of body protection is not necessary for blast mines.

ANDY: Don’t I know that! But I am not going to let you distract me from my point about the failings of those early standards. Of course, those who drafted the visor requirements were just erring on the side of caution, but by putting in an impractical requirement they erred in the other direction and inadequate safety-spectacles made for engineering workshops continued to be used. I don’t mean to be critical of them personally. I might have done the same as them, I don’t know, but I have learned from their error.

TWO: Here’s a second example with an impact on safety. A four level CASEVAC capacity was required for every demining site. This ignored the fact that demining was happening in countries where there was still fighting or the most fragile peace with a general absence of the most basic health care in rural areas. A dedicated two-stretcher ambulance was a requirement, with a list of medical equipment for medical orderlies, medics and ambulance that would be the envy of many National hospitals even today. “Advanced life-support care” had to be available within 15 minutes and a hospital with “life saving surgical facility” within two hours). Some groups used unconverted pick-ups and Landrovers to move their wounded over large distances, and deaths resulted.

DIETER: In Mozambique , it was only a requirement to reach specialised medical help within 2 hours and provide a vehicle for this purpose (not an ambulance).

Speaking about qualified medical help, I remember a situation where we carried out a training CASEVAC from the minefield to the operating theatre of the Central Hospital in Maputo . Apart from me, the only people who knew it was an exercise were the Director, the “casualty” (who was told only five minutes before) and the field paramedic (who was told only two minutes before. The casualty was taken by truck, ambulance, boat – yes, with a boat across Maputo bay – and then again by ambulance. I had forgotten to tell the paramedic to stop the exercise in front of the hospital. When I remembered to tell him, he was out of reach. It went so far that the operating theatre was reserved for the emergency. Nobody believed the “casualty” when he protested that he was not injured. He received his injections for calming down, the surgeon interrupted his lessons at the university and rushed to the hospital, etc. We kept within the two hour requirement, even for the casualty to be inside the Operating theatre. Luckily we did not create too much trouble for the hospital staff.

ANDY: Well done. I imagine that Dr Matthias reserved a pained grin especially for you. The record shows that ADP had adequate MEDEVAC arrangements, better than many, but you should still study Section Seven, Medical, of the UN’s International Standards for Humanitarian Mine Clearance (1999) for what was actually the requirement. I suspect that the legalistic language used in that document saved you. You could not understand it fully, so were able to interpret it very loosely. But I believe that the International Standards should set a base-line that is realistic and achievable, and then should be enforced. I also think they should be written in plain English!

DIETER: This time I will not argue with your last statement!

ANDY: And as a final example of why those standards were not good enough, clearance of 99.6% of all mines and UXO to a depth of 200mm was a requirement that was really rather silly. For example, in the Mozambique/Zimbabwe border mine-belt hundreds of kilometres long, with 3500 mines in each kilometre, a clearance rate of 99.6% allowed them to leave 14 mines in every kilometre. Who could possibly check the quality of their work if finding mines did not constitute a failure? Civilian accidents after the land had been declared clear proved nothing about the “quality” of the work. That demining group actually did the job rather well. But in some places, very poor quality work resulted, with no truly guaranteed clearance happening anywhere.

DIETER: Clearance rate is another hot topic that has never been decided properly in my opinion. When the inner German border was cleared of mines the lay out of every mine was recorded exactly in the same manner the work done to “clear” the area. The clearance document said that the area was cleared to our best knowledge and within the limitations of the technology used. It did not claim the area was “free of mines”. The nature of demining will never allow us to confidently claim a 100% clearance, so where is the problem when a risk is kept as low as possible and the work is done in accordance to the requirements as clearance is defined now?

ANDY: “Yes” and “No” Dieter. The problem is that “Clearance” is defined in the latest International Mine Action Standards without reference to 99.6%. Today ALL mines and ordnance to a specified depth must be removed. 100%. That has the advantage of allowing the work of all demining groups to be meaningfully subjected to Quality Control checks. And it is possible because many groups routinely achieve it.

DIETER: I also believe that my men routinely achieved it. But there may be legal problems if you claim it too loudly.

ANDY: Theoretically the legal problems are overcome by the National Authority signing-off on cleared areas and taking over responsibility for any residual risk. The problem only comes about when too much reliance is placed on ineffective National Authorities

DIETER: And many of them just cannot get the funds to be really effective, so it is not their fault when they fail… Who will sign a clearance document stating 100% if they are then liable? Even a government will have a problem?! Sometimes you are too critical Andy. It is your biggest problem.

ANDY: That has always been true. But there is as point in my being critical Dieter. When I was asked to be involved in the development of new International Mine Action Standards under GICHD’s management, they only asked because I had been so critical of the first attempt. All the vocal critics were brought inside the tent in a consultative process intended to achieve consensus. We called ourselves the “Awkward squad”. The 2000 IMAS resulted, and it is a major step forward. The built-in updating process should mean a steady improvement over time.

DIETER: The disadvantage of this “major step forward” is that I personally know only a few people who can give me an overview of IMAS, not speaking about details. But thanks to Phil Bean for writing a guide for understanding and using it.

ANDY: I know the standards are not easy to read but I really do think they improve every year. Three examples of improvement are:

ONE: The medical requirements were reduced and can now be met in most countries, but some groups continue to under-provide, probably because a dedicated ambulance vehicle is expensive and hard to justify when the accident rate is so low.

DIETER: Well, it stayed as it was before in Mozambique .

ANDY: Good. That means it was practical.

TWO: On protective equipment, many groups today still do not wear PPE that meets the requirement laid down in the new International Standards, but most do wear more than simple safety spectacles. The minimum requirement is still too high for some, and probably should be reduced.

DIETER: Yes, having practical PPE specified in the IMAS helped us to get the PPE for Mozambique financed by donors. Previously, no money for PPE had been made available. But getting PPE for the first time was not a permanent solution. Visors are short-life consumables and have to be replaced, but there was no money for that. This probably goes under “lessons learned” as a need for better management.

ANDY: No one takes the need to replace visors as seriously as I would like.

THREE: And the most significant improvement may be that the big commercial demining companies argued for the 99.6% clearance rate to be dropped. They believed that they could clear everything to a certain depth and did not like the fact that others with less professionalism could compete equally if the standard allowed sloppy work to be accepted. The fact that it was the commercial groups that wanted it surprised and impressed me.

DIETER: And yet the IMAS still includes terms like “ Battle Area Clearance” which usually involves just a visual search of the ground surface. This means that what is real “clearance” is still confused in the field.

The use of words and their definitions must be generally agreed before any real communication takes place. That is basic. But this industry seems to be still a long way off agreeing on the most fundamental term – “clearance”.

ANDY: True. According to the current International Mine Action Standards, “clearance” means total confidence that no explosive remnants of war remain to a set depth. Explosive remnants of war include all mines and ordnance whether fuzed, fired or otherwise. By that standard, v ery little of all the demining undertaken to date has involved real “clearance”.

The growth of a “professional” bureaucracy in demining has given us many learned studies and management tools highlighting systemic problems and meeting donor concerns about improved efficiency. What it has not recognised is that the learned edifice it has constructed has been built on nothing. The drills and systems that constitute “clearance” have never been properly studied or documented. There are no examples of effective drills in the IMAS. In most group’s SOPs, drills are either omitted or are not what is actually done on the ground. The managers don’t know what the deminers do, and don’t see why they should care as long as “clearance” results.

DIETER: Here you must distinguish between procedures and drills! Drills are programmed like a computer and must be executed just as trained. They are usually related directly to safety and are easy to share. Procedures are far more flexible and may be more problematic to share in detail. Safety rules and clearance procedures should allow the deminer to work safely. The main problem is honesty and following the procedures and drills in daily work.

ANDY: Knowing what they are is one thing. Following them is another and minefield discipline can be hard to enforce.

DIETER: Just like the driving in any country – violations should at least be kept to the minimum, although all drivers disobey sometimes. In Mozambique we used driving penalties as a model for disciplining the deminers to keep to approved procedures. We introduced a point system like for the driving licence. When a deminer got 6 points, he got an official verbal warning. At 12 points he got a written warning. If he reached 15 points a proposal for his dismissal was made to the Director. They got points if metal was found in their cleared lane, if they moved into unmarked areas, violated clearance procedures, disobeyed instructions, etc. Careless, thoughtless or disobedient deminers easily came close to be fired but still had the chance to mend their ways. The success of this approach all depends on the quality of the field supervisors. Quality assurance adds to good field supervision, but cannot replace it. Safety and quality relies entirely on the professionalism of the people in charge of the actual deminers.

ANDY: I did not know that point system. It sounds good – but still it relies on their being a coherent and safe set of procedures and drills for the deminers to use. When what is written in the SOPs is not what happens in the field, it is hard to see how discipline can be fairly applied. Some groups routinely sack the deminers involved in accidents, for example, and always blame the victim when things go wrong.

DIETER: Sure, there is a problem for the management to keep the SOPs updated and approved. But if it is just a field guide that must be updated and the SOP is kept more general, then it may be easier. The SOP that distinguishes between drills and procedures would also be more flexible and not need to be always updated. Not every group can afford to update the document all the time, especially when it must be translated into more than one language.

I had to investigate several accidents. The reasons for them varied from the victim being distracted by personal problems – when his fear that the husband of his current girlfriend was going to kill him was stronger than his fear of mines – to taking shortcuts through the approved procedures or having a competition with the next deminer. Sometimes part of the cause was inadequate tools, or not enough detail in a written part of the procedures, but I never found that the SOPs had obvious mistakes that were the direct cause of an accident.

ANDY: I think the need to distinguish between drills and procedures is a very useful point. Managers should consider it – and in the process they should take time to learn what the processes of clearance really are. Ultimately that would be more useful than chasing “cost-efficiency” all the time.

DIETER: Of course cost-efficiency is important. But “efficiency” also involves devising internal means of keeping the quality and safety aspects at the required level. This requires the manager to fully understand what happens on the ground. Therewith the organisation and the end-user will gain. When I needed to get the Director’s attention on issues like this, I started by saying “We have got a safety problem…” This got his full attention very quickly.

ANDY: In many ways you were lucky with your Director, or maybe you just knew how to get the best from him? Anyway, most Managers do not understand what happens on the ground. Take the use of metal-detectors. You and I know that using metal-detectors without checking the machine and the deminer’s performance against the smallest anticipated target (an actual mine) in that soil, means that you cannot be sure that you have cleared any ground at all. But most groups still use the manufacturer’s test-piece as their performance indicator. Some put target mines on the ground surface or in an open pit and check that the detector signals when swung over them. They do not realise that this proves that the detector will locate a mine that is fully visible on the ground-surface, nothing more.

DIETER: The manufacturer’s test piece confirms that the detector is set up properly and is functioning as designed, i.e. batteries and sensitivity are on normal/maximum level. This gives no information about the detection ability of the anticipated mine in the ground conditions. That’s why the detector has to be checked against the “real” target in soil and to the required clearance depth.

ANDY: And despite the fact that using metal-detectors is still the most common way of clearance, it is still common to use them without restricting the rate of search-head advance to ensure full ground coverage. Most of those in charge do not understand how a detector works or how limited the area interrogated beneath the search-head can actually be. As a result, when searching for small targets, there is no assurance that the ground is thoroughly searched.

DIETER: If this is really common, the Managers are lucky that more accidents do not happen during clearance. These Managers do not really feel/know their responsibility for the deminers because they put them in unnecessary danger in the minefield.

ANDY: Accidents that occur because mines are missed with metal-detectors are, like all demining accidents, rare. I believe that the main reasons for this is that most anti-personnel blast mines are very shallow in the ground. This means they are often easy to detect even with bad detector procedures.

DIETER: Another reason is deminers have a well-developed survival instinct and impose extra caution on themselves when they see a high risk. And their experience often lets them assess risk accurately. Although there are few patterns in the minefields laid during guerrilla warfare, if a deminer is working half a year in the same minefield he will become able to recognise even a most erratic pattern.

ANDY: It has always puzzled me that they cannot explain how they know what to expect, but it is true that they are usually right.

In their search for efficiency, many Managers are fascinated by the potential value of machines. They can be safer if they keep the men away from an accident. But it is not only demining accidents that matter, it is also the accidents to civilians than happen on land that is supposed to be have been cleared. In Angola graders are still used to scrape away an uneven surface, leaving it looking flat and not searched to any depth at all. That is not clearance. Following up randomly selected samples with dogs or detectors does not confirm anything about the areas not included in the random selection.

DIETER: We come back to basic rules, a grader is for road building and may create a layer of mines beside the road. Who allows using it as a clearance tool and accept it this way should never be allowed to work in Humanitarian Demining. The machine must be followed on with real clearance.

ANDY: Well maybe I don’t go as far as you on some of that. I can see uses for bulldozers and most machines, but not as the main clearance tool. I really find it hard that flails and rollers are used for “verification” in many countries. Verification means “confirmation”, but a roller or a flail can never confirm that there is nothing in an area. If something detonates, that confirms that there was at least one device present. But if nothing detonates, that does not confirm that there is nothing there. In many areas, a roller or flail will not set off most devices, and a roller or flail will not reliably set off all devices anywhere.

DIETER: I agree, but there are many different reasons for what you say. After lengthy time in the ground many mines may not function as designed and not react to pressure, but they can still explode. Hard cased mines, as most of the fragmentation mines are, are also a problem for flails and some tillers. Also, pressure-operated mines in good condition may resist impact in softer ground or when laid too deeply in harder ground. Other mines are designed to resist pressure waves from blast, such as the common PMN-2 and the VS-50 and will resist sudden impacts. A flail or brush cutter can easily cut away the tripwire or the fuse of a fragmentation mine, leaving the secondary circuit untouched. Everyone should know these things.

ANDY: I think all of the better demining groups these days accept that the machine is simply providing a first pass, proving nothing without follow-up. But others find it convenient to believe overstated manufacturer’s claims that the machine’s passage equals clearance. Or else they argue about what “clearance” means.

For me, following up rollers or flails with dogs, a visual search or a metal-detector scan of a sample area is also not “clearance”. It may well result in a level of confidence that allows an area to be declared as having “No Known Risk” or “cancelled”, but can never allow it to be declared “cleared”. Area reduction is no more “clearance” than is eyeballing a Battlefield.

DIETER: Yes, if we say it is “cleared” then it must be cleared. Many areas can be reduced or cancelled. It is not always possible to do this before starting the task, so it must be allowed while the work is taking place. We must trust the people on the ground to use their judgment more than just to say which tools are best to use, but also whether work over the whole area is needed.

ANDY: That is a good point. The Supervisor can decide whether to use excavation or metal-detectors, but is often not allowed to say that the job simply does not need to be done.

DIETER: This is sometimes the responsibility of the donor when they specify a task in detail and insist that the contract be honoured completely even to the punctuation. Most donors are better than this if there is the chance to talk with them, but that is not always so.

ANDY: I think the deminers know that excavating the entire topsoil is often the best way to provide real confidence in clearance to depth. But the work can be hard and accidents can be nasty. When they have pressure to be productive in terms of square metres, they may choose a less thorough method to increase speed. The Managers may be doing the same when they choose to use machines.

DIETER: Demining done by a human being is every time a good solution because the trained mind will always know that a mistake will suffer immediate punishment. Providing him with tools designed to support his work can improve his efficiency and his safety. Pushing him to work fast will always negatively impact on safety. It is better to reduce the area that must be cleared than to make the deminers work faster. The result can be the same in terms of land returned to the people.

I’m not a strong believer in Murphy’s Law but we had accidents (you know at a very low rate). They happened mainly in November on a Friday and 1-3 hours before shut down. One of the first questions I asked was, did the person in charge require a certain clearance “norm” before he would release them for the weekend break? The answer was no, he did not. I decided that the time from the last long holiday period was too long. For several months they had not had a long enough break to go home and switch off from demining completely for a few days. By November the Deminers started to lose concentration and in their minds, they were already at home. When I realised this, I woke them up with the CASEVAC exercise mentioned before. That exercise really helped for a period but could not prevent another accident the following year when the cause may also have been partly lack of concentration due to extended time between long breaks.

ANDY: Interesting. Accidents at the end of extended work periods are not a general pattern around the world, but investigators always try to find patterns. That’s why it’s useful to have all the accident records together instead of just a few.

But I agree every time that demining with men is always preferred to relying on machines. Manual demining is low-tech and labour intensive, but that does not mean that it is not cost effective. I think that the alternatives involving costly machines will always be more expensive as well as less thorough in countries where labour is cheap.

DIETER: It has been said that you do not like the very idea of clearance by machines.

ANDY: I think we have a similar approach to them Dieter. I will balance what I have said in favour of manual methods with this. Machines that remove the ground surface to below the suspect depth, process it and then return the spoil can also provide absolute confidence of clearance to a depth. The men in the loop actually identify the devices because the human eye is still the best detector available and self-preservation is still the best assurance of intelligent assessment. The method has disadvantages that include high capital investment and environmental destruction, but can be appropriate in some areas, especially those with a residential end-use.

DIETER: I have every time said that a potato-picking machine is the perfect solution - just a joke! We both know that machines can be very useful in demining and machines are good if we know the limitations.

ANDY: OK Dieter, so we agree on most things. But can you explain what happened to the passion? We had a lot of passionate people in the early days, so where did they go?

DIETER: I do not trust passion so I think we do not define it the same way. For me, passion is to think with the heart, not the head, and that is dangerous.

ANDY: Thinking with head alone, I can justify anything. It can be rational to be selfish, greedy and chase a fast buck. But when you care about the thing and your rationality is mediated by the caring, that is to feel passionate about it. People who do twenty eight hour days trying to achieve the impossible tend to be passionate.

DIETER: People who do twenty-five hours day as we say in German (lunchtime working through and at night there burns a light) usually burn themselves out and achieve nothing. I spent nearly seven years in the same place, learning and teaching. It was slow. It was not passionate, but still I did care and I did achieve things I am proud of. Nothing worth doing can be done by snapping your fingers. Always, you need time to stand back and think things through clearly. Passion does not allow that.

ANDY: Sometimes you may be right. I’ll tell you what I think happened to those passionate people from 1995. I think that many found that mines and ordnance were not really the problem we had been led to believe, and they left to invest their passion in something more honest.

DIETER: That is a very hard statement. My main concern was, could I say that I have done all I could do to bring the work to a level from which it would not fall back when I leave? After four years first as a QA officer, then as Technical Advisor with the same group, I was quite sure I had to go.

ANDY: Burned out? Maybe there was passion there after all? By my definition anyway.

Apart from those who left looking for honesty, a few others made a conscious decision to join the gold-diggers and have lined their own pockets. A few like me kept going because even if mines were not the biggest problem, they were at least a problem that we could address. And one or two saw that the mines were just a symptom of a greater malaise, and a useful way to draw attention to the need for radical global change, so they went into popular politics.

There are really not many people left who have been in this industry for ten years. Of those who remain, most have tried to join the Management club, ignoring the actual processes of clearance and concentrating on management tools. Some could not handle the political rhetoric and have simply disappeared back into normal life. Others returned to the field quite quickly. A few have become members of the new demining elite.

DIETER: We could both name them. And perhaps even I am one of those now that I am behind a desk and writing reports about testing equipment.

ANDY: You’re an exception Dieter. No one else I know has spent seven years in one country, growing with the industry and still learning at the end of it. You are not typical, my friend. The managers do not understand that Humanitarian Demining is not only about the return of land with an acceptable level of residual risk. The demining process itself also has to be Humanitarian. Concern for the deminer’s safety and welfare is more important than concern for donor stroking cutbacks. Professionalism requires that land declared “clear” really is “clear” – for the safety of deminers and the end-users of the land.

DIETER: When that cannot be done. Mark the area and leave it until the money is there to do the job properly.

ANDY: Yes, and here’s the point: take the “Humanitarian” out of demining and you remove the passion. Ten years on, a few of the passionate are still in the field. A few passionate armchair believers are still inventing well-meant silver bullets that misfire predictably and divert funds from the actual clearance. And many of the new Technical Advisors I meet are just as ignorant of what “clearance” really means as they were ten years ago.

DIETER: Andy, here you missed being critical about one very important point to me. All contracts for technical advisors I have seen have had the requirement to build up national capacity. From what I have seen, this objective has been broadly missed. The most extreme position I heard was, “I do not need national capacity to take over my job”! I did not think this way. I am proud that there are currently four Mozambicans trained by me who are under contract to UNOPS in three African countries. Others are working with NGOs. Perhaps it helps to be old like us? We are not in this business to waste our time or to look out for our own future.

ANDY: After the year I’ve just had – all I can say is that it really does not help to be old. I cannot physically do what the young ones do. And anyway, my passion has been corrupted by experience and is sometimes downright cynical these days.

Remember the photo of the Soviet KMT5 roller system on a tank in Southern Angola? This is the same tank pictured in 2003 with the Mine Clearance Cultivator alongside when I went to conduct an accident investigation.

The MCC alongside the tank with rollers, both having blown themselves up on tank mines, one ten years after the other.

The Mine Clearance Cultivator is 32 ton radio-controlled behemoth designed to lift shallow anti-tank mines with tines that it pushes through the ground. In the picture above, it has just blown itself up for the second time – it only ever found two mines, both of which it detonated against itself. Two mines and two expensive repairs of a machine that no one in their right mind would have ever let leave the drawing-board. Millions of dollars over many years spent on a machine designed to miss the point entirely.

Did they really need to be told that lifting shallow anti-tank mines and leaving everything else behind would be no help at all?

It cost more to repair this toy than it would have cost to employ twenty real deminers for a year. If probably cost more to develop than it would have cost to employ 50 real deminers for a decade….

If we want cost-efficiency we should divert mismanaged research and development funds into clearance.

The tank blew up in 1993. The MCC in 2003. How much did we progress in the ten years in between?

DIETER: Similar things have happened more than once. The machine we tested in 1995/96 had nearly the same “clearance parameter” as the machines tested nowadays. There have been no really important developments during ten years. We established at that time that this machine could be very helpful but that it could not clear a minefield. Manual clearance had to follow.

With another machine the downtime-awaiting repair was always longer than the time that the machine was working. The price has increased a lot…. But against that it should be said that many of the latest machines do have the added advantage of being remotely controlled. After ten years we did not move far ahead but I think we do know much better the limitations.

ANDY: Ok, I can live with that statement, as far as it goes. Cheers.

[Chink of vodka glasses.]

DIETER: Na zdorovje!