The Mine Action Team
MAG also established Vietnam's first Mine Action Teams. In the early days of mine clearance in other parts of the world, mine action organizations followed a more traditional military approach using 'platoons' of mine clearers of up to 32 people.
Experience showed that this is not always the best way to deal with landmines in a situation where there are many smaller areas of community need: villages are mined, river banks and water sources, orchards, pharmacy areas and even individual houses and schools. Big platoons can get tied up working on big areas, and such big areas are not always the immediate priority after war. So the Mine Action Team (MAT) was innovated by MAG in the mid 1990s. The idea was to be able to adapt quickly and effectively to the needs of the local people who were living with the threat of landmines.
The MAT is usually made up of 15 men and women trained in mine clearance, explosive ordnance disposal, technical survey, medical skills and team management. Each team member has at least two skills, meaning that the teams can split into even smaller units or combine easily with other teams giving maximum flexibility and versatility. For the villagers living with landmines this means that teams can visit more areas and deal with more tasks than with the traditional 'platoon'. This in turn creates goodwill, and confidence increases amongst the people that their problems are being dealt with. In turn this generates more safe mine-free land, more economic opportunities and in post-war countries it quickly opens access for social and health assistance, food, relief and development.
In Vietnam, MAG and local/district authorities together establish tasks and priorities. The MAT then works to the agreed plan, rotating through the communes and villages, clearing up any mine and ordnance-related problems they have. Over the past four years, MAG teams have visited 412 villages (66,000 houses!) clearing up any immediate mines and ordnance problems they may have: nearly 28,000 individual explosive items that could have threatened someone's life.
MAG America is funding two such MATs during 2004-2005: they plan to work in six communes serving 5074 households. We are also supporting a number of projects to develop land and infrastructure after the clearance.
MAG also provides Technical Advice to support development activities in Thua Thien Hue Province, south of Quang Tri. The Technical Field Manager there provides technical support and advice to two Mine Action Teams provided by the military in this province as part of a development programme run by AVI and AusAID (Australia).