Peacekeeping: Dogs Replacing People

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April 7, 2006: While European nations were able to clear millions of mines in a few years after World War II, the Cold War left over ten million mines in the ground that have not been taken care of so quickly. Nearly all these mines came from the Soviet Union and its communist allies, which eagerly sold them to anyone with cash, or a need to keep a communist dictatorship going, during and after the Cold War. The countries that still have active mine fields tend to be poor, badly run and unable to rapidly clear mines the way it was done in Europe after World War II. This has provided an opportunity for Western NGOs (non-governmental organizations), which have raised hundreds of millions of dollars from Western governments and charities to set up mine clearing operations. Most of this money has been spent on buying equipment and training local people to clear mines, using methods little changed since World War II. The amount of money devoted to the mine clearing problem has spurred the development of new technologies and techniques. One of the more effective of these is not particularly high tech, but has been very effective, particularly when it comes to finding non-metallic mines. After several years of effort, 800 mine hunting dogs are at work in 25 countries. A dog can search 1,000-1,500 square meters a day, more than three times as much as a human alone. Handlers use a ten meter leash, and moves in when the dog stops and indicates the presence of explosives. Mine clearing technicians then come in and remove the mine, while the dog keeps searching.

It takes four months to train dogs (to use their sense of smell to find the explosives in a mine), then a year to train dogs and handlers in the country where the dog will operate. The training, including buying the dog, costs about $20,000. The dogs can then work for 6-8 years, operating 4-6 days a week during good weather ( 200-300 days a year, depending on the climate).

Despite an international treaty "banning" landmines, the mines are still being manufactured and distributed. The treaty was mostly a feel- good operation by NGOs, as the primary manufacturing countries did not sign the treaty. Moreover, the most dangerous mines, plastic ones, are so easy to build, that outlaw manufacturing operations can provide them to dictators, terrorists and large criminal operations (like drug cartels) that want them. Landmines are widely available from international (illegal) arms dealers as well. The mine hunting dogs are going to be busy for a long time.

 


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