Israeli technology clears landmines in Angola

Digital photography used with airborne sensors.

Golan Mines (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Golan Mines
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Airborne sensors developed in Israel are helping to detect land mines in Angola, one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.
While the civil war in the east African nation ended in 1994, the loss of life and limbs continue till this day because of the estimated millions of land mines left behind. Detecting them has been cumbersome and labor intensive. But now, an Israeli company has introduced a special camera that picks them out without having to touch the ground.
“What I do is perform a chemical analysis of a spectrum,” said Avi Buzaglo Yoresh, director general of Geomine, the Israeli company which developed the system.
According to Yoresh, the camera is mounted on an aircraft. Flying over a suspected minefield, the camera detects both personal and anti-tank mines by determining their signature using nitrogen oxides generated within biological organisms which makes the mines stand out from the soil.
The method allows for a large area to be surveyed quickly and accurately, Yoresh told The Media Line.
“When you put a mine on the ground you put nitrogen on the ground and that affects the vegetation,” he explained, pointing out that it was his background as a geologist that led him to the patent behind Geomine.
“We are on a trail,” Yoresh said in a telephone interview from the Angola frontier.
Yoresh said that there had been a lot of interest from the local media in his visit and that he was taking his idea next week to Geneva, Korea and Vietnam.
Christian Richmond, Southern Africa Desk Officer for the HALO trust, a British landmine clearing organization told The Media Line that land mines were still killing people across Angola.
“In the five provinces where HALO work there has been five casualties this year many more involving cattle,” Richmond said “At HALO we have cleared 68,000 mines since 1994.”
Estimates of the number of land mines in Angola range from six million up to 20 million. But Richmond believed it was closer to half a million. Many of the mines were placed around towns and villages that were of strategic importance during the 19-year-long civil war.   
Richmond said the technology used by Geomine was not unique.
“It was tried in Kosovo after the war there. Aerial photos are more useful because it shows you more than you can see while standing on the ground, but aerial photos cannot see through trees and vegetation,” Richmond said.
Putting it into perspective, Richmond said detecting the mines was only half the job. There was still a need to physically remove them once you know where they were.
 “The need is for more de-miners,” he added. 
The use of mines in Angola started during the rebellion against the Portuguese rule during the 1960s.
While the country won independence in 1975 the use of landmines did not end as the situation deteriorated to a civil war between three rebel groups the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the Angola National Liberation Front (FNLA) fought over control of the country’s vast natural resources until a peace deal was signed in 1994.
In 1997 Angola signed Mine Ban Treaty, sometimes referred to as the Ottawa Treaty, which prohibits the production, stockpiling, use and transfer of anti personnel mines.