As they mingled over coffee at the Inter-Continental Hotel, delegates to the International Forum on Demining and Victim Assistance brought a range of perspectives shaped by their nations’ different experiences.
The Belgian Ambassador to Thailand, Burma, Bangladesh, Laos and Cambodia, Cristina Funes Noppen said her focus is on the families of victims and their needs.
“From the figures we have seen, it is usually the man who is killed or injured by land mines in Cambodia and this will often mean that the woman will become the main support of the family,” the ambassador said.
“Therefore, I am interested in programs that can be put in place that will help such women, with training, with psychological assistance and aid to reintegrate the victim and family with society,” she said.
Belgium has worked with Handicap International and Handicap Belgium in these fields and finds their work greatly benefits the families of victims. “I think we should enlarge these possibilities and programs,” she said.
Belgium has an ongoing problem itself with buried explosives, a grim and enduring legacy of World War I. “We have much UXOs (unexploded ordnance),” said Funes Noppen, “but for us it is not so dangerous, for we have a lot of experience of dealing with these things.”
Mozambique National Demining Commission Director Osorio Mateus Severiano said mine removal is his primary focus. Since peace was declared in his country in October 1992, the work of demining has been continuing steadily.
“We are hoping to learn about advances in data collection that we can use in Mozambique,” said Severiano. “Naturally, we are interested in developments in rehabilitation and the economic effects of demining, but for us to accelerate the pace of demining, we are focusing on data collection.
“One of the problems in Mozambique has been establishing control of the situation through better information on where the mines are buried.”
For Maria Madalena S. Neto, national director of the Ministry of Social Affairs in Angola, the focus was different again. For her people there as yet no peace and her government’s chief efforts are directed at victim assistance and rehabilitation.
“Demining itself is difficult to translate to our situation, as we are still at war,” said Neto. “Right now, we can only help the victims with physical assistance and economic reconstruction to the best of our abilities.
“So it is victim assistance that chiefly interests my ministry and we hope to find good information to share with the agencies and delegates we meet here.”
Hiroshi Tomita was at the forum to represent the Japan Alliance for Humanitarian Demining, based in Tokyo. His group is involved in demining technology development and he said he is frequently asked about machines that will solve the land-mine problem.
“But there is no silver bullet,” said Tomita. “There are simply too many variables for any one piece of technology to solve all problems.
“In Cambodia, for instance, you have the wet season, when heavy equipment cannot be used, and the dry season. There are many ditches, too, making transport difficult.”
Different terrains and climates all mean that a technology that works well in one environment will be useless in another and Tomita said much of his work lies in obtaining feedback and conveying this to the developers so that modifications may be made.
constantly evolving and improving.
. “Last year’s lap-top computer is this year’s junk, the technology moves so fast,” he pointed out. “And a problem that might have made a mine detection device useless in the past — for instance, the presence of laterite that gives a false reading — may be overcome today. We no longer have the laterite problem with our mine detectors now we are using microwave technology.”
His group is chiefly focusing on the reduction of false alarms in detectors and on various transportation and communications technologies, Tomita said.