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Mine Control

Ayala Bar Chaim

There are 200 million landmines still buried all over the globe from decades of wars, killing thousands each year. While countries have allocated millions of dollars to make their territories mine-free, it would take an estimated thousand years to clear the world of mines. But now that a new airborne mine detector system invented by an Israeli geologist has hit the market, the grim prognosis seems a lot less dreary. Will Avi Buzaglo Yoresh’s discovery make the world a safer place?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

explosionLandmine. An explosive device hidden just beneath the surface of the ground. Such an outmoded concept, perhaps reminding you of World War II. So irrelevant to anyone who hasn’t been a victim.

Angola. A forgotten nation somewhere in the African desert. So irrelevant for anyone who doesn’t live there, yet so unbearable for thousands of its residents who have tragically lost limbs or lives because the country is littered with mines.

The middle of the night. A black figure, wrapped in a blanket against the nocturnal chill, walks quickly out to the field. Lacking a faucet at home, he just wants to reach the water pump. The constant rumbling thunder camouflages the explosion of the shoe mine that cuts down his life in an instant.


Hidden Hazards

It’s not easy to be a citizen in Angola. Still reeling from a bloody, two-decade civil war, Angolans have to tiptoe through a country riddled with mines — an estimated 10 to 20 million of them. The use of mines in this East African country began during the rebellion against the Portuguese rule in the 1960s. And although Angola won independence in 1975, landmines continued to proliferate during the bloody two-decade-long civil war that followed. Fighters on all sides scattered enormous quantities of mines, all of them uncontrolled and unmapped.

According to Doctors Without Borders, over a million people died in the civil war, four million became refugees — and mines continue to exact a high price, with Angola having the highest percentage of amputees in the world. The International Red Cross estimates that one in every 334 people in the country is missing a limb.

Mines continue to play a dominant role in Angolan daily life. Thousands of kilometers of riverbanks and tens of thousands of acres of agricultural land, pasture land and forests are unusable because they are full of mines. And war survivors are often killed by mines when they return to try to rebuild their lives.

Angola is not the only country in the world that struggles with destructive mines. According to estimates, more than 110 million mines have been buried around the world, most of which can still explode.

For decades, most mine-clearing operations were on a small scale and funded by the country’s military. But since 1999, when the Ottawa Treaty to rid the world of minefields was signed by 160 countries, the budgets and donations allocated toward this cause have ballooned to tens of millions of dollars for every local project. Various defense and security companies compete for contracts to these projects. According to the 2009 Landmine Monitor Report, signatory nations have destroyed more than 44 million mines since the treaty's enforcement. Eighty-six countries completed the destruction of their stockpiles, and another 63 countries declared that they did not possess stockpiles to destroy.

But clearing mines requires a lot of money and resources, and the companies that offer minesweeping services can charge millions of dollars to clear a medium-sized minefield. Complicating matters further, there are also illegitimate, pirate companies that compete along with legitimate security companies for mine clearing contracts. As they work to clear the designated area, they steal the mines and then sell them to local militias that bury them right back into the ground.

That’s why a new airborne system for mine detection — an Israeli invention developed by Avi Buzaglo Yoresh, a geologist and CEO of the Israeli company Geomine — holds such great promise for the industry. Buzaglo Yoresh’s mine detector system works by detecting mines from the air, without having to 

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