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Sri Lanka’s three decade-long civil war came to a brutal end in 2009, but with minefields waiting to be cleared technology is being used to speed up demining in the northern parts of the island, where the most intense fighting occurred.

Demining must necessarily precede the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of people, among them families forced to flee their homes during the final stages of the war as well as those internally displaced since the 1990s.

The HALO Trust, one of a handful of demining agencies working in Sri Lanka, has since 2002 pulled nearly 200,000 mines out of the ground. HALO is supported by the governments of the UK, US and Japan. Now, a shift in the political climate in Sri Lanka has facilitated a renewed push to make the island free of mines by 2020.

Traditionally, minesweeping has been a painstaking process requiring the careful sifting of soil by hand, but technology is making the job easier. In 2012, HALO began using Handheld Standoff Mine Detection Systems (HSTAMIDS). Combining advanced metal detectors and ground-penetrating radar, HSTAMIDS quickly differentiates between mines from metal debris. According to Damian O’Brien, programme manager, HALO Trust, the dual-sensor detector has improved mine clearance rates in Sri Lanka by up to 40 per cent.

The agency also deploys modified agricultural flail machines to rapidly verify whether a suspected area actually contains mines. Armoured to withstand a detonation, the flails churn the ground and bring mines to the surface. Also due for introduction this year is BeachTech, a machine that is expected to speed up the removal of unexploded ordnance from loose, sandy soils.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South Asia desk.