Landmine Clearance

What are Landmines? Why are they a threat?

Seventy-two countries are confirmed or suspected to be affected by landmines.  MAG has been a world-leader in the clearance of landmines and other explosive debris of conflict for more than 20 years, identifying these as deadly threats to both physical security and develpment

Antipersonnel landmines are explosive devices designed to injure or kill people. They were typically placed during a period of turmoil or war in the country for a variety of operational or psychological objectives.  They lie dormant for years and even decades under, on or near the ground until a person or animal triggers their detonating mechanism. Antipersonnel mines cannot be aimed: they indiscriminately kill or injure civilians, soldiers, peacekeepers and aid workers alike.

These deadly devices may be made of plastic or metal.  Many variations contain shrapnel that amplifies their damage when detonating.  They can be activated by direct pressure from above, by pressure put on a wire or filament attached to a pull switch, by a radio signal or other remote firing method, or even simply by the proximity of a person within a predetermined distance.

When triggered, a landmine unleashes unspeakable destruction.

The blast causes injuries like blindness, burns, destroyed limbs and shrapnel wounds. Sometimes the victim dies from the blast, due to loss of blood or because they don't get to medical care in time. Those who survive and receive medical treatment often require amputations, long hospital stays and extensive rehabilitation.

How does MAG Help Eliminate this Threat Through Landmine Clearance?

Talking to Communities & Prioritization of Tasks

In order to develop a clear understanding of the problems faced by conflict-affected communities, MAG goes directly to the source.  Through liaison with villagers, authorities, hospitals, governments, aid agencies and other partners, MAG is able to prioritize its work based on the needs of affected communities. For this, MAG utilizes a capacity of its own invention: what we call Community Liaison (CL) teams.  CL teams map the need for and anticipated impact of landmine clearance in close participation with the beneficiaries and, after conveying the data to MAG's technical teams, the appropriate response can take shape.   After MAG CL teams collect vital information to support and guide the clearance process, MAG can then prioritize clearance tasks, ensuring the higher impact, more urgent tasks are conducted first.

Data collected includes:

  • Where is the contamination; 
  • What are the communities' development plans or priorities; 
  • What are the communities priorities for clearance; and 
  • What are the intended post-clearance land use.

Providing the Appropriate Solution

There is no "silver bullet" approach to landmine clearance - it often combines a set of tools working in unison.  MAG has adopted a multi-faceted "toolbox" approach to conflict clearance, which includes manual clearance, mechanical methods and use of mine detection dogs.  The tool used depends on a large number of factors including terrain, weather, density of contamination, access restrictions, etc.  The clearance process is conducted using procedures which comply to international mine action standards.

Manual Clearance

Traditionally, landmine clearance was conducted using large military-style platoons that were adept at clearing huge previously identified plots of land.

This process would clear whole areas over several months or years, but did not always benefit the most people as this approach focused on the number of bombs removed rather than the benefit that land would have on communities.  

MAG pioneered a different approach where it developed mine action teams that are made up of 15 local people employed by MAG and trained by international staff in at least 2 of the following skills: demining, explosive ordnance disposal, technical survey, medical and first aid, training and management capabilities.  By using smaller teams MAG can work with local community leaders to prioritize the areas for clearance that will have the most significant impact on human life.  

Clearance starts from a known safe area (this may be the perimeter of the mined area or may require a safe working baseline to be established) into the hazardous or suspected hazardous area.  Manual clearance is carried out by deminers systematically searching the area by working clearance lands, usually measuring 3.28 feet wide, into and through the contaminated area.  Deminers use metal detectors to detect metal objects that may, or may not, be mines laid below the surface.  They then use hand tools such as prodders and trowels to manually investigate each metal reading and partially excavate a mine when one is located.  Deminers clear down to a depth below the surface as set by the National Standards of each country usually to a depth of 7.87 inches (20 centimeters). 

MAG's landmine clearance work is a structured process for returing safe land to the local community.  Mines are found and destroyed within an environment organized to provide safety for the deminers, including clear marking to differentiate cleared and un-cleared land.  A clear record of which land is now safe and which is still dangerous is updated on a daily basis.  

Once a mine has been discovered by a deminer, and depending on the type of mine and its fusing mechanism, it can be disarmed and taken to a safe place, or more usually, destroyed in situ.  

Throughout the clearance process, quality assurance is carried out to ensure the procedures are carried out to the accepted standard, guaranteeting 100% clearance of land and the safety of all MAG personnel.  Once the area has been cleared, it will be handed over to the community so they can use it to help rebuild their lives.  

Detection Dogs

Currently used by MAG in Iraq and Cambodia, mine detection dogs are capable of indicating the location of buried landmines and other explosives.

Handling live animals does not come without its problems - wet or windy or temperate conditions affect this method, and the cost of handlers and kennels is also a consideration.  But dogs are a useful tool in the land release process, able to identify that only a small portion of a large area of land that was initially suspected of being dangerous is actually contaminated with mines.  Thus enabling safe land to be returned to communities at a much faster rate.  With their noses close to the ground, Mine Detection Dogs (MDDs) detect vapor released from explosives and are trained to signal their handler when they detect explosive vapor.  

As with other methods employed by MAG, the use of dogs forms just one part of our overall approach in clearing conflict-affected countries.  The most common breeds of dogs used for mine detection are Belgian Malinois (pure breed and mixed), German Shepherds (pure breed and mixed), and Belgian Shepherds.

 To learn where MAG perform's its landmine clearance work, click here -->>