In Faya-Largeau, Chad, Humanity & Inclusion has begun testing drones to detect landmines and build a detailed picture of what’s on the ground—a revolution in mine clearance. HI Project Manager Xavier Depreytere explains more.
“Our first tests took place in January in the desert south of Faya, an area heavily contaminated by explosives leftover from the conflict with Libya in the 1980s. The drones can scan areas in record time: 750 acres in two hours, which represents a huge time-saving for mine detection teams.
Equipped with a camera, the drone gives a detailed picture of what’s on the ground, along with a set of data such as GPS coordinates. During the initial tests, the drone took a photo of the terrain every two meters. When assembled, the photos provide a highly detailed map.
What is the optimal height for a drone? What type of drones should we use? What data is most useful to mine clearance experts? These are the sorts of questions we are asking in order to make the best use of this technology.”
International Meeting of Mine Action Experts
From February 5 to 7, mine clearance experts will gather in Geneva, Switzerland, for the annual mine action meeting organized by the United Nations. HI will be present to talk with professionals about innovative new mine clearance methods and to draw attention to the organization’s current testing program.
A key topic will also be weapons clearance methods for improvised explosive devices (IEDs)—a major challenge in modern demining.
Humanity & Inclusion, in conjunction with new technology companies, will start testing minefield survey drones in northern Chad in February 2019. Drones, which can map suspected hazardous areas remotely have the potential to revolutionize landmine clearance operations. If successful, drones would help target mine clearance areas more precisely and reduce the length of time it takes for teams to return contaminated land to civilians.
"Drones can hopefully provide considerable assistance in demining by reducing tenfold the time it takes to implement non-technical surveys, a phase that consists in identifying and demarcating potentially hazardous areas requiring the intervention of demining teams,” explains Emmanuel Sauvage, Head of Armed Violence Reduction at HI. “This phase is sometimes longer than the mine clearance operations themselves. By providing accurate data for mapping areas to be cleared, the drones will also help us to deploy our mine-clearance teams in a more targeted way.”
Clearing land and keeping people safe from weapons is at the core of our DNA. Innovation such as this is vital in order to meet the vast needs of mine clearance operations. In Chad alone, 39 square miles of land are contaminated by mines and explosive remnants of war. HI and its partners plan to clear 1.1 square miles over four years, relying on several mine clearance teams and a mine clearance machine.
In places like Chad, Laos, and Colombia, mines and explosive remnants of war pose a daily threat to civilians. In fact, in 61 countries around the world, explosive ordnance post a real obstacle to development. The Landmine Monitor 2017 report reveals that the number of new casualties of anti-personnel mines, factory-made or improvised, and explosive remnants of war increased by almost 25% in one year, rising from 6,967 casualties in 2015 to 8,605 casualties in 2016. The number of casualties nearly doubled between 2014 and 2015 (6,967 new casualties in 2015 compared with 3,993 in 2014).
From February to October 2019, HI will conduct trials near Faya-Largeau in northern Chad. By flying over large areas in a very short amount of time, the drone will significantly reduce the length of what mine clearance professionals call the "non-technical survey,” a field investigation phase that determines whether mines and explosive remnants are potentially present, thus requiring the intervention of mine clearance experts.
By providing aerial evidence of the presence or absence of mines and geolocation data, drones will also make it possible to create more precise boundaries of areas where deminers need to intervene, reducing intervention times. During the test phase, HI will also explore the possibility of developing a drone equipped with a radar to detect subsurface mines.
With financial support from the Belgian Government's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, HI partnered with Mobility Robotics, a specialist in drone piloting, Third Element Aviation, a manufacturer of customized drones and sensor designer, Inzentive, which has developed a data management service, and Dynergie, a company tasked with making innovative proposals on demining methods.
Our mine action teams regularly conduct tests with companies and research teams based on new technologies. In addition to testing mine clearance drones, HI has embarked on a "mapping challenge" with research groups to convert satellite images into maps of previously unmapped areas, essential for emergency operations.
After decades of armed conflict, the Lake Chad region remains littered with explosive remnants of war. Humanity & Inclusion (which operates under the name of Handicap International) puts up warning signs around hazardous areas and runs risk education sessions to help protect locals from the dangers of explosive remnants.
A two-person risk education team from HI is teaching people living in Baga Sola and Liwa, in Chad’s Lake region, how to spot, avoid, and report any weapons they may find in their communities. These sessions are held outside in the shade, in front of a mosque, or in school playground where HI staff use cartoon strips to teach small groups of 25 people about explosive remnants of war, the harm they can do, and how to prevent it. Since January 2018, six thousand individuals, of which the majority are displaced after fleeing the violence of Boko Haram, have taken part in these risk educations sessions.
When an explosive remnant is found, a sign is put up as a warning to local people. MAG, a partner organization, then removes and destroys the explosive remnants.
HI’s team regularly returns to sites where explosive remnants have been identified in order to check several things: Is the explosive remnant still visible? Has it been covered by sand? Are necessary warning signs still there and visible?
Warning signs often disappear. Sometimes they are buried in the sand or taken and used by local people for firewood. That’s why, our team regularly returns to sites to make sure the signs are still there and visible. Some explosive remnants are recovered by Boko Haram for use as improvised explosive devices.
Once individuals been informed of the risks, they are more alert and are better equipped to stay safe from explosive remnants identified by HI. This reduces the number of accidents before the area can be cleared of explosive weapons.
By the end of this year, HI and its partner organizations will begin clearing explosives in North Chad. Learn more about the work we’re doing in Chad.
 Mines Advisory Group
Humanity & Inclusion recently launched a vast development program in Chad aiming to demine contaminated land, implement a social welfare system, and boost economic activity in the North (Borkou, Ennedi, Tibesti) and Lake Chad regions. This four-year project has the biggest humanitarian budget the organization has ever managed - $28.5 million. Thomas Hugonnier, Head of Mine Action for Humanity & Inclusion gives us all the inside information.
What does this project involve?
This is a truly vast development project. It focuses on three areas: demining the land contaminated during the conflict with Libya in the 1980s, implementing a social welfare system, and developing economic opportunities for the most vulnerable, in particular young people.
Where, how, and why will we be demining?
We will demine the road links polluted by mines and explosive remnants of war in three regions in the north of the country: Borkou, Ennedi, and Tibesti. This will make it possible to develop trade. Chad is currently very heavily contaminated by mines, over an estimated 38 miles of land, equivalent to the surface area of the city of Paris! In the Borkou, Ennedi and Tibesti regions there are over 96 miles of contaminated roads. This is a significant barrier to development. In order to carry out this work we will use a demining vehicle which is designed to demine large surface areas. Given the extensive preparation required for this intervention, these operations will get underway mid-2018.
The project also includes a welfare component. What does this involve exactly?
There are almost no social services whatsoever in the village communities. Our project will structure the services that do exist, build a network of local actors, and create a social welfare fund which will guarantee access for the most vulnerable, including people with disabilities, to basic services. We want to involve the communities in this project: committees will be set up to define the criteria for defining vulnerable users and to determine a system for identification, referrals and social support. Our aim is to ensure equal access to services for all.
The project also has an economic goal...
We intend to help poor families constitute a small amount of savings and to define a financial assistance mechanism. The project will reinforce apprenticeships and develop small businesses. We will finance collective works, such as building an irrigation channel for a palm grove in order to grow dates, after the land has been cleared of mines by our teams. This example clearly shows how the three different components of the project work together: demining the road network to encourage transport and trade, boosting the local economy and employment opportunities, and providing a social welfare system. We are tackling poverty in the region on all fronts.
This project has a particularly large budget. Who are our partners?
This is indeed a major project, set to last four years, involving numerous people and villages over a vast area. We are not working alone. HI will be the lead agency in the consortium of NGOs which will implement the project. The consortium is made up of the Mine Advisory Group (MAG), the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) and SECADEV (Secours catholique et développement a Chadian NGO). Along with Humanity & Inclusion, these major international organizations will join forces to promote the development of a poor region, contaminated by mines after chronic crises, such as the recent crisis involving Boko Haram.
In Chad, Humanity & Inclusion continues to run programs under the operating name "Handicap International."
Handicap International works in Chad to reduce the threat of explosive remnants of war and provide essential assistance to the victims of these weapons. There are 300,000 people living under the constant threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war, the legacy of four decades of successive wars in Chad. The presence of these weapons is a major obstacle to the country’s development. Handicap International has been working in Chad since October 2014 and employs 30 national staff and seven expatriates.
Essentially a rural country, Chad ranks among the 10 poorest countries in terms of human development. Chad has a population of around 12.8 million people, with 47% living beneath the poverty threshold, according to the World Bank. However, in recent years, the country has experienced high growth due to its oil industry.
The security situation in the region remains a cause for concern: crises in Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Libya, along with the actions of the terrorist organization Boko Haram, are exacerbating an already complex humanitarian situation. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is predicting that the number of displaced people in the region will increase in 2015. The country already hosts some 500,000 people who have fled neighboring crises and are living in extremely vulnerable situations. Handicap International has worked in Chad on a number of occasions between 1982 and 2000, with its primary focus on physical rehabilitation activities.
Supporting Mine Clearance Operations
Handicap International is helping to clear land contaminated by landmines and explosive remnants of war, bringing it back into use for the villages directly affected by these threats. The organization also conducts mine risk education and provides training and technical support to members of the National Demining High Commission.
Handicap International trains staff at Chad’s physical rehabilitation centers and assists the sector by developing a disability identification strategy. It is providing support for the reopening of the N’Djamena Rehabilitation Center and is helping victims’ and disabled people’s organizations to campaign for their rights, since these groups are heavily marginalized in Chad.