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Israeli company maps Angola's minefields using innovative method

posted 23 May 2011, 07:01 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 23 May 2011, 07:04 ]

The Israeli company Geomine works in Angola with an innovative method to map minefields faster and safer than ever before.

NEAR SALANGE, ANGOLA  - A new technology that detects landmines by analysing soil from the air helps countries like Angola to clear perilous, unmapped minefields faster and safer than ever before.

One of the main challenges facing countries like Angola -- a worn-torn country with millions of landmines hidden in unmarked fields and a striking number of amputees as testimony -- is that most of the land cordoned off actually contains no mines. But to play it safe, they need to check every inch of soil -- a time and cost consuming process.

A new method developed by the Israeli company Geomine can focus the search. Its system uses a special camera loaded on a plane to photograph large swathes of land. By using a multispectral camera -- traditionally employed to monitor soil content for agriculture -- the company can detect buried mines and unexploded ordinance, which over time, leak nitrogen into the ground.

"Each material on the nature have its own signature and what we look for is for the signature that the mine leave on the ground," Avi Buzaglo-Yoresh, founder of Geomine, told Reuters.

After photographing the area from the air, Geomine combines the information with satellite images and analyses the findings to map out danger zones.

This way, Geomine's method is free of the common errors that one can find in minefields maps, said Buzaglo-Yoresh.

"When someone give you a report of where he allocate or where he put the mine he can do a mistake in the transferring of the date and the people that use his date can do a mistake so you open a quite large variety of mistakes. What I suggest is not to be a part of the mapping and to have the evidence on the ground," he added.

The United Nations says that currently it would take more than 1,100 years at a cost of $33 billion to clear the planet of mines, provided that no new ones are planted. The world organisation is looking for new technologies that could improve the traditionally conservative de-mining process.

"We are always looking, increasingly so now, for ways of improving the way that we plan and do business on the ground in the context of clearing landmines, and Geomine's process could well assist that," Christopher Clark, Senior Liaison Officer and Technical Adviser of the United Nations Mine Action Service, told Reuters in Geneva.

In Angola, Geomine was working with the government to inspect an area of 100 square kilometres (39 square miles) of suspected minefields. Geomine quickly determined that 95 percent of the territory contained no explosives. The mines it did locate were removed.

Buzaglo said the system did not make a single mistake in the trial, but acknowledged that statistically, if used on a large scale, there is a chance of encountering a false positive or not detecting a mine.

Israel is also stepping up its efforts to clear minefields and faces an additional problem of locating mines that have been swept away by floods.

The military, which is responsible for about 2 million mines spread across some 200 square kilometres (77 square miles), said that Geomine's system could make its work more efficient.

It already has noticed some advantages, Colonel Eran Pauker, commander of the Engineering Corps in Israel's Northern Command, told Reuters.

"In trials until now it indeed focused us and brought us to the areas (with mines), saving manpower and resources," he said.