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Winter 2003/2004
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Finding and Removing Land Mines

In Southeast Europe, GIS Helps Harvest the Dragon Seed

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Digital map of northern Albania using IRC PAN/LISS satellite imagery and vector layers.

Land mines have been a staple in military arsenals around the world for nearly 90 years. They are cheaply produced, difficult to detect, and easily detonated.

In many ways, a land mine is the ideal weapon. It is designed to maim, not kill. It slows the advance of an enemy and confuses and demoralizes him.

One of the significant characteristics of a land mine is that it works for free and never forgets its duty, standing guard over "killing fields" well after conflicts have ended and former adversaries have formed new alliances for joint peace and prosperity.

The U.S. Department of State estimates that there are more than 100 million unexploded ordnance (UXO) and land mines throughout the world. The vast majority of those affected by land mines are civilians in developing countries who are crippled or maimed while making attempts to return to a semblance of peacetime normalcy by cultivating fields, gathering firewood, or just walking along a country road.

While land mines are cheaply produced and easily placed, removing them requires a substantial effort and cost. Mines can cost as little as 50 cents each to produce, while the price soars from $300 to $1,000 to remove them.

Dr. Ken Rutherford, assistant professor, Department of Political Science, Southwest Missouri State University, knows firsthand the pain and suffering inflicted by the indiscriminate laying of land mines. He is a bilateral lower leg amputee as a result of a 1993 land mine accident in Somalia, where he traveled with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) as part of an international humanitarian intervention. Dr. Rutherford details his accident and recovery in "Landmines: A Survivor's Tale," the full text of which can be found at www.maic.jmu.edu/journal/6.3/focus/rutherford/rutherford.htm.

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Distribution of minefields (red dots) and cleared area (blue dots) in the region of southeast Europe.

Describing the accident, he writes, "I slowly looked at Duale, whose face was covered with dust, then down to my feet. I saw a white bone sticking out where my right foot used to be. At first, I wondered if that was my bone or Duale's. It was mine." Later he observes, "Thus far, my medical care costs are in the neighborhood of a few hundred thousand dollars. What about the Somalis who are hurt by land mines? Who is going to help them? Who is going to pay for their care and therapy? There are thousands of victims around the world in places where having one's legs and arms is key to economic survival."

Who indeed is going to help those unfortunate people?

The International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance (ITF) is now in its fifth year of funding and monitoring the demining activities in southeast Europe, which includes the countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, and Macedonia. Full details of their programs are located at www.see-demining.org.

This region has long suffered land wars and the inevitable resultant laying of land mines. It is estimated that more than two million mines and UXO were placed during the Balkan crisis alone. Annually, between 18,000 to 20,000 kilograms of UXO, primarily from World War I, are found and neutralized in Slovenia.

Before ITF began its efforts to monitor and finance the demining activities in southeast Europe in 1999, there was no regional coordination of those activities. Each neighboring country had its own approach toward mine removal, and there was a general lack of opportunity to coordinate those activities as well as exchange information and experience. Upon the formation of ITF, the European Commission (EC) prepared and proposed a GIS project called the Geographical Information System for Mine Action in Southeast Europe (GISMASE), which was jointly funded by the European Commission and the U.S. Department of State and implemented by ITF under the scientific guidance and monitoring of the EC's Joint Research Centre.

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A 3D representation of incidents/accidents frequency in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1998–2001.

The goal of the project is the creation of high-definition maps that will include the identification of mined areas and their socioeconomic and security implications as well as the development of GIS training capabilities so the project can be locally supported.

Comments Borut Jagarinec of ITF, "The problem with developing a regional GIS in southeast Europe stems from the fact that there are different organizations operating in the region and there is a need to collect, integrate, and synthesize the information collected by these different sources, which unfortunately have frequently used different methods, systems, formats, etc., for assembling and structuring their data. One of the major tasks of the GISMASE project is not the unification of the GIS systems currently being used in the region but the development and improvement of the regional land mine information systems (including GIS) so that information on minefields, surveys, incidents, and background is stored in a compatible format and can be exchanged between those organizations participating in the project."

With the guidance of GISDATA, Esri's distributor in Zagreb, Croatia, ITF adopted Esri's GIS software for the project including ArcGIS, ArcView Spatial Analyst, ArcIMS, and ArcEurope Base Map and Demographics.

ITF has embraced a multiresolution approach to the mapping of mined areas to satisfy the diverse range of requirements that cover different spatial scales. The requirements range from regional planning (1:100,000 scale maps) to tactical needs (1:25,000 scale maps) and the detailed mapping and monitoring of mine clearance operations in the field (1:5,000 scale maps). For low-resolution coverage of the entire region, orthorectified Landsat 7 satellite imagery with a land cover classification and change detection for 1990-2000 was used.

On top of these coverages, basic vector layers found in Esri's ArcEurope Base Map, as well as data from other sources, including minefield positions, soil type, slope, land cover, country boundaries, utilities, roads, railways, and rivers, are used for analysis. Surveys, incidents, and background information acquired through regular regional information exchanges are also included in the GIS.

ITF plans to employ the Internet to share its data with other participants in the project and will use Esri's ArcIMS to distribute that data.

Concludes Jagarinec, "Land mines are one of the last remaining plagues in the world, and we are trying very hard, using a variety of methods including GIS technology, to eliminate them."

For more information, contact Borut Jagarinec, The International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance (e-mail: jagarinec@itf-fund.si), or Andrej Loncaric, GISDATA (e-mail: andrej.loncaric@gisdata.hr).

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