After 22 years of work, Mozambique was declared as free of land mine peril. During this long timespan over 200’000 land mines from a legacy of wars were one by one removed and destroyed in tedious and dangerous work. I am especially happy about this landmark in the global fight against landmines as I have a personal connection to this and want to use this occasion to look back.
Some of you might know that in an earlier role I was the program manager for the development and integration of the Information Management System for Mine Action IMSMA. Back in 1998, the Swiss Government wanted to support the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in the fight against landmines and sponsored the development and integration of what in essence turned out to be a decision support system combined with an enterprise resource planning system that had a uniquely powerful integrated GIS component and was especially developed for supporting humanitarian demining. I had the opportunity to lead that program that found a home at the Center for Security Studies and Conflict Research at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology where we worked on behalf of the United Nations.
At that time there existed a few databases that supported demining in different countries but nobody had yet attempted to standardize the datasets and create a system that could be used across different theaters of operation. Starting out from a green field, I was lucky to hire Thomas Schürpf and Beat Schoch and the three of us started working on a system that later became the standard application for Mine Action (another broader term for humanitarian demining). With the success in the field my team grew and in addition to software development we added training and integration specialists that helped the local mine action centers setting the system up, consulted them in how to best use and adapt it, and trained other organizations in performing IMSMA trainings. At some point the Swiss Government established the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining and from there on we developed the system on behalf of that Centre. In the end we had an install base in 41 countries worldwide, the system became the standard system for the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of American States and we won the ESRI special achievement in GIS award in 2001. And to come back to the introduction – Mozambique was one of the countries that used the IMSMA system and where my team supported the center and Halo trust on-site.
Mozambique is now the second country that has been declared landmine free where IMSMA was used. The first one was Kosovo which was also the testbed for IMSMA and where we spent a lot of time on the ground and learned what it means to clear landmines and where the dangers lay. I will never forget the flight into Prishtina in a British Airforce CH-47 Chinook helicopter escorted by AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and looking out the semi-lowered loading ramp where the helicopter crew was spotting for surface to air missiles as the Kosovo conflict was only just spinning down. As the security situation was still critical, the initial work took place in the Kosovo Force (KFOR) Headquarters overlooking Prishtina without showers, sleeping in tents and working side-by-side with UK Army engineer officers to start the humantiarian demining work. The pictures on the left show a view into our initial set-up and how the landmine situation in Kosovo changed from 1999 to 2001. After the initial period the United Nations took over the mine action work and John Flanagan, the program manager of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo Mine Action Coordination Center, described the use of information and IMSMA the following way: “Information is a vital component of mine action. During the successful clearance operation in Kosovo, IMSMA enabled us to rapidly collate and analyze an enormous amount of data. This in turn helped us to plan and priooritize clearance efforts, and assisted with the integration of other activities such as mine awareness education. Throughout the entire mine action program in Kosovo, IMSMA was constantly used to manage the ongoing operational activities, and without it, our task would have been much more difficult.”
Obviously the main work has been done by the women and men on the ground who were doing the actual mine clearance. I have an enormous amount of respect for these people as I know out of experience that even with protective equipment to walk in mine infected areas is dangerous. Many that were doing that work got hurt, maimed and killed and even after this time I think of their sacrifices and of the impact they had on many lives saved. Thank you everybody that is involved in this line of work.
Thinking back also makes me proud. With my team we were – and after all this time still are as some of our original systems are still being used – part of eradicating landmines and contributed to reducing the amount of landmine victims by giving the tools and training for better awareness and improved priorization of clearance activities. This is probably one of the most meaningful things that I have so far done in my professional life and I am especially proud and grateful of the team that I was being able to build and lead. At this time I would like to thank them all for all their work, late nights and weekends. For their long hours abroad, in planes and in some “not so” comfortable and plain dangerous locations they went. Thank you especially Thomas Schürpf who started this with me and was leading the development, Beat Schoch who joined only a bit later and led the implementation and consulting team and Ralf Hug who led a development team. Also thank you to the the whole team that consisted of Armin Fessler, Christian Schluep, Emanuel Mahler, Maria Schabel, Mark Yarmoshuk, Martin Hochstrasser, Maurizio Bianchi, Nicolas Jene, Nicole Allet, Oliver Muff, Patrick Lombardi, Ralf Hug and Reto Schöning. And thanks to the many people that supported and helped us. We could have never done it without you. You all have my deep respect and gratitude.
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