|NDT.net - December 2002, Vol. 7 No.12|
The existence of some 100 million active mines threatens human life and curtails substantially the economic base in over 70 countries. Humanitarian demining is tedious and it currently only employs metal detectors, prodders, dogs and armoured mechanical vehicles.
Achieving a world free of mines within a period of 10 years as stipulated in international treaties requires safer and more efficient technologies. In response to this challenge the Working Group 5 of the European Federation for Non-Destructive Testing (EFNDT WG5) was founded in Berlin in March 1999. The subject of this working group now consisting of 50 members from 17 countries is the detection of antipersonnel mines (APMD). The basic idea was to investigate existing NDT methods into their ability to aid mine detection. The scope of activities ranged from collecting available information, setting up links to related organisation, defining terminology and standards to selecting dedicated research projects. Since some of these tasks are already conducted by other organisations on an European and international level the attention of the working group has been focused mainly on two R&D areas and on reliability assessment studies. Otherwise, EFNDT WG5 APMD nevertheless remains open to novel approaches in mine detection. Aim of all activities is to provide deminers with safer and more efficient tools than merely with prodders and metal detectors currently used for their dangerous task.
The armed conflicts and combats of the past decades have left behind vast polluted areas that are completely inaccessible. The most obvious reason prohibiting to enter these regions are some 100 million landmines that are still live and could easily destroy or deteriorate human life, even upon the slightest touch. Representing numerous presentations that can be found in the internet, two images have been selected to illustrate the humanitarian problem (Figure 1 and Figure 2). More photos showing the problem can be found e.g. at http://www.oneworld.org/gallery/landmines/index.html. Particularly children are victims of anti-personnel mines that are viciously constructed in a way to hurt rather than to kill a person, for strategic reasons (!). A description of those can be found in the internet at http://www.fourmilab.ch/documents/minerats/figures/mines.html. In such a way economic prospering is seriously impaired in over 70 countries. Particularly when returning back to normality, this is an additional burden unbearable for most without external help (see social costs: http://www.warchild.org/projects/mines/social.html). The price to clear a mine, manufacturing cost < US$3, could pile up to US$ 1000 (see http://www.unicef.org/sowc96/9ldmines.htm). A list of mine afflicted countries is also published in the internet: http://www.warchild.org/projects/mines/ldburden.html. Returning to normal life in those countries is supported by non-governmental organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC, http://www.icrc.org) or more specialised ones like the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL, http://www.icbl.org), who has received the Nobel Peace Price in 1997, the United Nations Mine Action services (UNMAS, http://www.mineaction.org) or Menschen gegen Minen (MgM, http://mgm.org/). These institutions provide impressive material on this subject. In spite of an appreciable amount of research in mine action technology, only four principal techniques are prevalent in demining:
Fig 1: Close-up of a mine exposed by
the shifting sands of the desert.|
(UN/DPI Photo# 158198C by J. Isaac).
Fig 2: A young girl recovering in an
Iraqi hospital after having lost her hand
in a landmine explosion.|
(UN/DPI Photo# 158314C by J. Isaac).
The United Nations outlawed anti-personnel landmines already in 1996 (General Assembly Resolution 51/45 S of 10 December 1996 urging all States to pursue vigorously an effective, legally-binding international agreement to ban the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines). However, this convention failed to improve a previous one from 1980 that regulated, but did not ban the use of anti-personnel landmines. This prompted Canada to call for a conference in Ottawa in 1996 which resulted in the Ottawa Convention or commonly referred to as the Mine Ban Treaty (Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti- Personnel Mines and on their Destruction) in December 1997. This treaty entered into force in March 1999 and has been signed now by 142 states. Unfortunately, some major countries such as the USA, Russia and China did not join. The European Community has endorsed the Mine Ban Treaty by adopting two regulations: Regulation (EC) No 1724/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 July 2001 concerning action against anti-personnel landmines in developing countries and the Council Regulation (EC) No 1725/2001 of 23 July 2001 concerning action against anti-personnel landmines in third countries other than developing countries. As a consequence, we in Europe have a clear-cut legal mandate to act reaching a world free of mines within 10 years. Today, 7 years are remaining from this period.
Reviewing the reality, it appears questionable to reach the mandatory goal within the given time continuing current practice. With the pressure of time and the urge to relief the mine afflicted countries from their burden, members of the EFNDT considered that a new systematic approach was needed including revision of existing NDT methods not yet considered for mine detection, searching for contacts with other relevant organisations and setting up an infrastructure for information exchange. The development of novel approaches in mine detection technology appeared essential as well. One of the fundamental ideas was that some NDT technologies might have a potential not yet revealed in aiding mine detection. The Working Group for Antipersonnel Landmines Detection WG/APLD was founded at the Meeting of EFNDT Board of Directors in Berlin, March 1999. It was later renamed into Working Group 5 Anti-Personnel Mine Detection (EFNDT WG5 APMD) since anti-personnel mines also have been encountered in shallow waters. The aim of the group is to find tools for deminers that increase their personal safety and make demining more efficient so that the mandatory goal could be reached. Today, the group has 50 members from 17 countries, it is represented in the internet on page http://www.fsb.hr/ndt/wg5-apld.
EFNDT WG5 APMD had five meetings in the past:
An alternative lane of mine detecting methods would be to trace the explosives as the essential ingredient of all mines. This would be much more logical than to scan for metal, but has its own difficulties. Detectable are only those minute amounts of explosives that leak out of a mine. In principle, these techniques imitate the action of a dogs nose. Analytical techniques like ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) and all kind of sensors, much of them still in development, fall into this category. Alternatively, bulky concentrations of nitrogen compounds can be detected by spectroscopic methods such as magnetic resonance (nuclear quadrupole resonance spectroscopy, NQR) or nuclear techniques like neutron activation. Spotting mines by their shape an appearance requires image producing methods. However, ground penetrating radar originally produced rather blurred images and is limited by the presence of water. Radiation back scatter technologies show impressive results but are inevitably combined with very heavy instrumentation weighing tons. In contrast to this, currently the optimal and most versatile tool for deminers would be a single hand-held and easy to operate detector with a reliable discrimination between mines and harmless objects. This device then must entail as much as possible technologies in combined form. As further image producing alternatives, infrared, broad-band optical and polarographical methods are lacking penetration into the ground. However, they may have a chance to penetrate vegetation. At the end, various technologies have been considered, but now is the time to find a way onto the fields. In some selected areas, there might be still a chance for some of those techniques, maybe after modifications or in meaningful combinations. This should include data fusion projects already pursued in some places. As a consequence, tests, evaluations and reliability assessment studies will certainly remain an essential part of future activities.
At present it is essential to assess the strength and limits of all methods, either introduced or in development, to define areas and circumstances of practical trials and potential use in demining. It is mandatory to provide deminers with tools making the environment more transparent, the procedure safer and increasing efficiency. Therefore, reviewing available technologies in any kind of application with respect to their ability to assist mine detection will be a continuous process.
Humanitarian demining is a tedious, dangerous and expensive task as compared to the use of these vicious weapons. Particularly on the way returning to normality, civil persons and even children are victims rather than those having actively participated in the combat scenario. We have a clear-cut international mandate to get rid of all anti-personnel mines in a given time. As a consequence, we are obliged to make demining safer, the field of operation more transparent and the procedure more efficient. There are certainly common problems in detecting mines in the soil and testing for flaws in materials. Therefore, the NDT community is appealed to look around if any of the routinely used might be suitable to assist detecting mines. This could essentially help to reach a world free of mines within the set time period.
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