The International Mine Ban Treaty came into force on 1 March 1999 and there are now 156 States signed up to it, with the most notable exceptions being Russia and Israel (who both continue to manufacture and use landmines and cluster bombs). The USA and China are also not signatories of the Treaty, and have significant stockpiles of landmines and cluster bombs although they no longer manufacture and have stated that they do not intend to use these devices. For terrorists, freedom fighters and criminals the landmine or homemade improvised explosive device (IED) is still a routine weapon of choice. 50 countries continue to manufacture prohibited devices.
The Treaty requires all signatories to destroy their landmine arsenals within 4 years of acceding and to clear all areas, both minefields and ‘dirty’ battlefields, of ordnance within 10 years of signing. Many countries will reach the end of the 10-year cleansing period over the next three years and most have yet to complete (or even begin) the cleansing. Since the treaty came into force it is reported that 42,000,000 mines have been destroyed from stockpiles in Treaty states. However it is still believed that there are global stockpiles of around 176,000,000 landmines.
The UN reports that 2 million additional landmines are being laid every year.
The key problem is that there are still estimated to be more than 100 million landmines in minefields in around 70 countries. At the current rate of clearance (assuming no more are laid), it is estimated by the UN that it will take 600+ years to clear them all. Humanitarian organisations and governments have committed to the clearance, but as yet there are no reliable, safe volume clearance techniques available.
The average cost of finding and disposing of a landmine is between $300 and $1,000, of this only $3-$5 is spent on disposal, whilst the rest is spent on locating the devices. The UN estimates the total costs could come to $50bn a figure it revised from $33M just a few years ago.
Over 80% of all land designated as mined is in fact clear. However, the potential presence of landmines is enough to make land unusable and inaccessible to people. Mineseeker Operations is a UK company established to develop and launch an aerial surveying and cartography (mapping) service, to provide minefield large area reduction and clearance, allowing for the rapid release of the up to 95% of wrongly designated areas.
There are an estimated 200,000-800,000km² of land in over 70 countries designated as affected by landmines and unexploded extraneous remnants of warfare (collectively known as unexploded ordnance (UXO) and explosive remnants of war (ERW)). The United Nations (UN) estimates there to be more than 100 million landmines buried or on the surface of the planet, and that it will take more than 500 years and $50 billion to get rid of them all.
Millions of people are affected by the proliferation of UXO with valuable agricultural land unavailable for food production, clean water inaccessible, roads and footpaths rendered impassable. During periods of heavy rainfall plastic landmines, in particular, are liable to float away in the floods and relocate in unknown areas. Lack of available food and water and supplies are just two of the many adverse consequences of landmines that can lead to other disasters, including famine and aid-dependency.
Up to 25,000 people every year are killed or maimed by UXO. It affects the lives of whole families. Women and children are frequent victims. Death robs families of breadwinners and carers, whilst the injured become a burden for others, losing their dignity through dependence and an inability to work. This adds to the demands on already overstretched aid programmes.
This humanitarian disaster is recognised by the world community, with international treaties to stop the proliferation and continued use of landmines and cluster munitions, and to clear existing problems, being widely agreed.
A skilled deminer working with conventional mine detector and prod can clear around 35m² of land each day, at which rate it would take 80 people, working flat out, a year to clear a single square kilometre (1km²) of land. If each deminer were paid just $35/day the cost of clearing one square kilometre of land would be $1M. The cost of mapping one square kilometre by Mineseeker Operations is the order of $150,000.
Around $600 million per annum is earmarked for finding and clearing UXO, however, there has never been a year when 600km² have been cleared.
With just one operational aircraft, Mineseeker Operations’ aerial surveying service will be able to survey and map up to 5km² / day. Land shown to be free of UXO can be released quickly. Clearance operations will take weeks rather than years and even mined land can soon be liberated to agriculture. At this rate, with one aircraft Mineseeker Operations could map 1,250km² in a year. Two aircraft could map 2,500km² and just 8 aircraft 10,000km² in a single year. Depending on the accuracy of the various landmine contamination estimates, the global problem could be eliminated and the thousands of square kilometres of blighted land could be restored in, not 600, but 30 years, with a fleet of just 25 aircraft, at a much lower cost than the UN’s current estimates. With an effective mapping service the ability of countries to defer or evade their Mine Ban Treaty obligations could end.
Inevitably, our technology will have many other uses including pipeline, archaeological and geological surveying, leading to other lucrative areas of commercial opportunity for Mineseeker Operations.