Rebel Crusher, Orbit Screener and Large Loop Detector might sound like the names of space ships in a science fiction movie, but they are in fact some of the huge and impressive machines used in the Middle East to help clear landmines and unexploded bombs.
The landmine clearance charity the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) uses these highly specialised machines across former conflict zones so people can live in safety.
In Iraq alone, over 3.4 million people were displaced at the height of the crisis and the fighting has left large areas littered with improvised landmines (IEDs), manufactured on an industrial scale, and deployed in urban, village and rural settings. Groups such as ISIS have left behind a particularly deadly legacy, explains MAG’s Mechanical Operations Manager in Iraq, Guy Petts, due to the size and unpredictability of devices left behind.
“Some of the IEDs we are finding are huge – the size of a 202-litre barrel. We’ve had to evolve as we go based on what we’re dealing with.”
Guy PettsMechanical Operations Manager
Deminers are the people who go in on foot to clear landmines from the affected areas, armed with hand-held metal detectors. But to make their job a bit less risky, it is the machines that are sent in first to help prepare the land.
Demining machinery is used for excavation, sifting, crushing, spreading and searching. It is also brought in to give demining teams safe access routes to the land that needs to be cleared.
A mine clearance machine can weigh as much as 6,600kg and cost up to half a million pounds. It is vital therefore that MAG deploys exactly the right equipment for the terrain, climate and other conditions – such as the type of mine that needs to be cleared.
Surprisingly, it’s extremely rare for a mine clearance machine to be damaged – due to the way that the mines are lifted out of the ground which involves lifting the detonation wire first.
But Guy explains that because of the huge amounts of explosives found and the unpredictable nature of ISIS mines, the specialist machinery deployed in Iraq is regularly modified to help protect the people operating them.
Modifications can include building cabs reinforced with extra thick steel and armoured glass. With the cabs then repositioned to put as much distance between the operator and the mines as possible – which could be lifesaving if a mine explodes while clearance is taking place.
Similarly, telescopic extending arms can be used to put a bigger distance between the operator and any potential explosion. Remote-controlled machines are also used to detonate live mines.
While the modifications vary what doesn't is the hugely positive impact these machines can have on the people who are forced to live near landmines.
“I’ve travelled to conflict zones all over the world and have seen the difference machinery can make to mine clearance; it's always going to be a dangerous job but the safer we can make it the more effective we'll be—and the more communities we can help to rebuild their lives. Our work is so important because there are still millions of families living in fear,” says Guy.
"Our work not only delivers the immediate benefit of not worrying about your family being killed by a landmine, but it also helps the community in the long term as roads, schools and hospitals can be built and people can use the land again for farming.”
Using highly trained staff and special machinery, MAG teams across the Middle East find and destroy landmines and unexploded bombs before children do.
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