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Clearance of Mines and Explosive Remnants of War

Mine clearance is one of the five core components of mine action. In its broad sense, it includes surveys, mapping and minefield marking, as well as the actual clearance of mines from the ground. This range of activities is also sometimes referred to as "demining".

There are two types of mine clearance: military and humanitarian. Military mine clearance is the process undertaken by soldiers to clear a safe path so they can advance during conflict.   The military process of mine clearance only clears mines that block strategic pathways required in the advance or retreat of soldiers at war. The military term used for mine clearance is breaching. This process accepts that limited casualties may occur.

Humanitarian mine clearance is very different. It aims to clear land so that civilians can return to their homes and their everyday routines without the threat of landmines and unexploaded remnants of war (ERW), which include unexploaded ordnance and abandoned explosive ordnance. This means that all the mines and ERW affecting the places where ordinary people live must be cleared, and their safety in areas that have been cleared must be guaranteed. Mines are cleared and the areas are thoroughly verified so that they can say without a doubt that the land is now safe, and people can use it without worrying about the weapons. The aim of humanitarian demining is to restore peace and security at the community level.

Maps resulting from the impact surveys and technical surveys are stored in an information management system, including a variety of programme databases, and provide baseline data for clearance organisations and operational planning. 

Minefield marking is carried out when a mined area is identified, but clearance operations cannot take place immediately. Minefield marking, which is intended to deter people from entering mined areas, has to be carried out in combination with mine awareness, so that the local population understands the meaning and importance of the signs. 

Clearance operations make use of three main methods: 

  • Manual clearance relies on trained deminers using metal detectors and long thin prodders to locate the mines, which are then destroyed by controlled explosion; 
  • Mine detection dogs, which detect the presence of explosives in the ground by smell. Dogs are used in combination with manual deminers; 
  • Mechanical clearance relies on flails, rollers, vegetation cutters and excavators, often attached to armoured bulldozers, to destroy the mines in the ground. These machines can only be used in certain terrains, and are expensive to operate. In most situations they are also not 100% reliable, and the work needs to be checked by other techniques.

Advances in technology have been made in recent years, both in mine detection systems and in mechanical means for destroying mines in place. However, in many situations manual clearance remains the preferred method, for reasons both of cost and reliability.

The UN bodies involved in mine action do not carry out mine clearance directly. In most countries they advise and assist the national authorities, or a UN peacekeeping mission to carry out mine clearance. The UN typically establishes a Mine Action Authority or Coordination Centre responsible for overseeing clearance activities. The actual clearance operations may then be carried out by national civilian agencies, military units that agree to take part in humanitarian operations, national or international NGOs or commercial organisations.