I often get asked ‘how do you actually find the landmines?’
It’s a very good question! It’s not like we can see INTO the ground and know where the mines are lying.
The answer is not a straightforward one but here goes…
The way we find the landmines depends on a few things – the location of the minefield, the history of the mine laying, what manpower or machines we have available. It can even depend on the time of year (rain is the deminer’s best friend!) so monsoon season makes for a short day in the minefield.
Not all our programmes use the same techniques either. So in Cambodia we use one type of metal detector, in Mozambique another type and in Sri Lanka we don’t use detectors at all!
Instead we have hardy men and women armed with a small scraper who sit in a trench and manually excavate the entire ground ahead of them. Every single inch of it! For 5 hours a day, every day.
In some places the soil is so hard packed it’s like chipping at concrete so the deminers water the ground ahead of them…another rather laborious process involving wells and buckets!
I’ve mentioned before that mine clearance is a slow, methodical, laborious process but this 100% excavation technique is in a league of its own. Patience is more than just a virtue here!
Digging through soil sounds like quite an aggressive way of finding mines. What if the scraper’s hit the mine for example?
The technique we use is a tried and tested method as the safest technique of excavating – starting at the bottom of your trench face and carefully scraping across and up.
Landmines are activated by pressure on the top of them so we scrape from side to side removing the excess soil as we go.
The deminers excavate the soil ahead of them and carefully hunt out the mines. But then what to do with them when we find them?
Normally mines are destroyed where they are found using a small chunk of TNT explosive but here, because the area is still controlled by the army, we can’t keep explosives so we have to (v.carefully!) dig it out then take it away to be incinerated!
This is the fun part!