Technology helps demine Sri Lanka
A deminer works patiently in the hot sun. Measuring approximately 12 square kilometres, Muhamalai is the largest remaining mined area in the country, and has so far yielded 15,000 mines.Devaka Seneviratne
A flail machine kicks up a storm of dust in the minefield of Nagarkovil. Covering up to 2,000 square metres in one day, flails can quickly confirm the presence of mines by bringing buried items to the surface. HALO uses them in areas between known minelines to ascertain if additional clearance is needed.Devaka Seneviratne
The flail machine is operated via remote control by an operator standing at least 25m back and behind a metal safety panel.Devaka Seneviratne
A BeachTech machine waits to be deployed. Towed by an armoured tractor, these follow the flail machine across sandy areas, hoovering up fragments of metal, barbed wire and unexploded ordnance, including bullets. The BeachTech is unsuitable against anti-vehicle mines or large calibre ordnance.Devaka Seneviratne
Each yellow pole marks a spot where a mine was unearthed, recording the type, depth and date. Records of where mines were laid are few and often unreliable. Heavy rains, floods and civilian excavations can shift mines from their original location.Devaka Seneviratne
Mines like the Rangan, produced in vast quantities by the LTTE, are designed to be activated only when stepped on, allowing a deminer to pick them up carefully. However, improvised explosive devices and damaged mines cannot be moved and must be destroyed in situ.Devaka Seneviratne
Nearly 50 per cent of The HALO Trusts deminers are women. Sometimes the sole breadwinners in their households, they often support their extended families.Devaka Seneviratne
HALOs current work plan for northern Sri Lanka prioritises areas required for infrastructure development and the resettlement of internally displaced people.Devaka Seneviratne
In April this year, the Sri Lanka Army released 1,000 acres of land in the Jaffna peninsula to the rightful owners. Demining agencies surveyed the area and cleared the land for families to move in. This section of the land, released in 2011, had over a 100 mines. Houses are now being built on it.Devaka Seneviratne
Minefields slow the rehabilitation of affected communities, says Damian OBrien, of the HALO Trust in Sri Lanka. However, once the lands are cleared, families return and communities are rebuilt. Sasikalas husband was killed in the war and she lost her right leg when she stepped on a mine. She now lives in a house built on demined land.Devaka Seneviratne
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.