With the exception of cases of items of Explosive Remnants of War (ERW)left over from the world wars in Europe, the problem of landmines and ERW occurs exclusively in developing countries. It is there, where 85% of conflicts that increasingly plagued our planet since the end of the Second World War have taken place and keep on proliferating.
As they are very cheap and easily available weapons, landmines have been and keep on being widely used. But, unlike other weapons, landmines, once buried, are not any more under control of the party and cannot be directed toward its enemy: very often it is civilians who actuate them by accidentally stepping on one years after that mine was put in place. This is the reason why, according to the principle of obligations towards civilians during conflict which has been present in international humanitarian law since the 1880’s, the use of anti-personnel landmines is banned by the majority of countries (all those who have signed the Ottawa treaty).
As research and development facilities in developing countries are usually scarce or non existent, technical solutions for landmine clearance come from Western countries, where research is either carried out in academic institutions or private companies selling demining equipment.
As a result, these kinds of technologies generally belong to one of two types: complex, high-tech types, whose justification and funding come from the need to produce high level state of the art research (i.e. European projects aimed to strengthen European excellence in world research) or simple to use but very expensive types, produced by commercial companies that sell in a very small market without enough competition. Sometimes, technologies are also developed locally, by Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) who have good field facilities and technicians able to adapt existing technologies such as construction machines to the demining purpose.
In all cases, technologies for humanitarian demining are not designed together with local communities who might contribute consistently to the achievement of a good result with their first hand experience of the problem and gain useful skills that can be used later on for upgrading old technologies and starting their own innovation process that since the Stone age has proven to be a key factor of the human development process.
According to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti Personnel Mines and their destruction, also known as Ottawa Treaty, a landmine is a munition designed to be placed under, on or near the ground or other surface area and to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person or a vehicle.
Landmines are designed to incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons. Depending on the target, being a person or a vehicle, landmines are defined as either Anti Personnel landmines (AP landmines) or Anti Tank landmines (AT landmines).
Humanitarian demining is the name commonly given to the process comprising several activities including mine clearance that leads to the release of mine affected land to local communities.
Humanitarian demining includes technical survey, mapping, clearance, marking, post clearance documentation, community mine action liaison and handover of the cleared land.
It has to be distinguished from military mine clearance, as the objective of humanitarian demining is to clear all of the mines and other explosive remnants of war from a given area to return safe land to the civilian population. For soldiers in battle, on the other hand, speed is essential, and they must accept greater risks. Therefore, military breaching may clear only a path through a minefield and may not destroy every single mine in the path of armed forces.
Humanitarian Demining, together with advocacy, stockpile destruction, victim assistance and mine risk education is one of the five pillars of the more comprehensive process which is called mine action, aimed at reducing the social, economic and environmental impact of mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO).