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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

GICHD: Using GIS for Clearing Landmines and Restoring Land to Use

 
September 13th, 2019 by Susan Smith

With all the uses that have been discovered for GIS, humanitarian demining is one that has not gotten a lot of attention. Land mines and unexploded remnants of war are embedded in the soil and structures of one-third of the world’s developing countries. These abandoned time bombs affect innocent people long after the war has ended, making so many areas uninhabitable.

The Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) has had a 20-year partnership with Esri working around the world to demine landmines and save lives. At the Esri User Conference 2019 held in San Diego this summer, the GICHD gave a presentation on “GIS for Sustainable Peace.”

Ambassador Stefano Toscano of Switzerland spoke of GICHD’s 20-year partnership with Esri. He likens landmines as “soldiers out there refusing to lay down their weapons, waiting for their victims. Mines continue to maim and kill long after a conflict ends. Entire communities are denied access to their land, hospitals, schools and homes.”

According to Toscano, these weapons have been used to inhibit mobility and obstruct borders. One third of the countries around the world are still affected by mines with 60 million people at risk. “Mines are usually buried so walking off the trodden path may cost you your life.”

“A few weeks ago I was in Mosul, Iraq. I saw the effects of war on the population, has been occupied by ISIS for over three years, and mines are everywhere, fields, roads, houses.

In fact, every hour mines claim a new victim somewhere around the world and half of them are children.  The number of mines has gone up in the last few years.”

Toscano talked about how the government of Switzerland had created an initiative to clear mines and render spaces safe. The government has been advising countries and setting up sound humanitarian demining programs around the world. Information management is part of the demining work, as you need to know where the landmines are. Gathering and mapping data allows deminers to target precious demining resources where they are needed most and make the most difference.

Head of information management, Oliver Cottray, spoke of demining as a “textbook geographic problem,” as it is necessary to define the location and extent of explosive hazards and their proximity to schools, hospitals, and other critical gathering places in communities.

“We want to plan our operations over large areas to remove hazards,” said Cottray. “A perfect job for GIS. Working with Esri for 20 years, we have been configuring out-of-the-box tools. The system has to integrate into day-to-day processes, providing a simple and robust GIS for all these environments.”

An example is Tajikistan, a country that is difficult to reach. 74% of population lives in the hills. In such rugged terrain, deminers must narrow the search area to areas where they are confident they will find something.  “We may have old minefield maps, like Soviet maps, and we systematically map incidents that people call in,” said Cottray.  “They saw an unusual item in the field or their goats or a person has stepped on a mine. These incidents will trigger the tasking of more targeted surveys. In non-technical surveys, we rely on community interviews and witness accounts. Technical surveys use technical assets like mine detection. Through these surveys we define polygons or hazardous areas. These are submitted by Survey 1-2-3 for validation through the operations manager through web apps. Web apps put GIS into the hands of decision makers, who are interacting directly with the GIS.”

Once the hazards are mapped out it’s a question of which do you address first? Where will they have maximum impact? There is generally the conundrum of addressing either national development goals or local community needs. Do they clear the area around a hospital or school first?  The process must be managed very carefully.

“We have developed Prisma, a site suitability tool, an app that runs in the ecosystem, that ranks hazards according to criteria that are set and weighted by stakeholders themselves. It includes proximity to roads, schools and hospitals. Running this tool across a number of stakeholders gives you an idea of consensus that helps you anticipate potential conflict.”

Then the demining teams can head out and start clearing the mines which occurs inch by inch, Cottray said. Aerial imagery is also used to further refine the search. There are also dashboards at the end of the information management chain to assist with reporting on progress. The Tajikistan National Mine Action Center reports that it has released 77% of the originally contaminated land back to productive use.

What’s on the horizon? Cottray points out that “Today’s conflicts are tomorrow’s mine action.” The current conflicts of the past two or three years have been taking place in urban environments, which pose specific new challenges in terms of collecting data on landmines.

“Mosul, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen – these urban environments present new challenges where contamination is not on the surface or underneath the surface, it’s in the buildings, and in 3D,” said Cottray. “Now GIS and machine learning are helping us create models quicker than ever before, so that we can make homes safe more quickly.” Victims have increased in the past couple of years because there are families who return to homes before they were made safe.

Toscano said that GIS not only about responding but also about preventing deaths from landmines.

“GIS gives us an essential tool to recover from and move on from violent conflict, from preventing conflict from turning violent in the first place,” said Toscano. “It allows us to share and manage space effectively and collaboratively. We all understand the visual language of maps. They allow us to share space in a manner that benefits all. Peace is about the resolution of conflict in non-violent and collaborative ways. And here where GIS comes in.”

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Categories: analytics, ArcGIS, ArcGIS Online, Big Data, citizen science, cloud, data, disaster relief, Esri, field GIS, geospatial, GIS, GPS, handhelds, location based services, location intelligence, mapping, mobile, mobile mapping, Open Source, photogrammetry, remote sensing, satellite imagery, situational intelligence

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