At last, a ray of hope over landmines: British designer's fake mine will train people in former conflict zones to detonate devices safely
Paul Bignell is an Assistant News Editor at The Independent. He has previously been the acting News Editor of the i Paper, a home news reporter for The Independent for one year and a reporter for the Independent on Sunday for six years.
Sunday 11 August 2013
The world's first "simulation" landmine, developed by a British designer, could reduce thousands of casualties maimed by explosive devices left behind in former conflict zones around the world.
Experts believe the tool, designed and developed by Chris Natt will educate and protect millions who live among the lethal weapons by helping them practise the skills they need to deal with them.
Such is the simple but effective nature of the devices that Mr Natt, 27, has won the backing of the United Nations, which has shown interest in developing the dummy mines as well as a series of "blast-proof" hand tools that he has also developed.
An estimated 20,000 people in 80 countries are killed or maimed by live devices each year. Landmines can cost as little as £20 to produce and can lie undetonated for decades until disturbed.
The countries most severely affected include Afghanistan and Angola, although the country with the most landmines is Egypt, which has an estimated 23 million still remaining from the Second World War and the conflicts with Israel.
Mr Natt's dummy mine can be quickly and cheaply constructed using a 3D printer and is fitted with spring-loaded sensors. It imitates the sensitivity and unpredictability of the real thing by vibrating and making realistic noises. Equipped with sound and light systems that go off when a mine is uncovered or touched in the wrong way, it aims to assist the training of locals who live amid the deadly ordnance and who risk their lives by trying to uncover them without the training or skills to do so safely.
Andy Smith, a landmine specialist from the website nolandmines.com, who works with the UN and leading charities in removing the devices, said: "When a deminer detonates a mine as he exposes it, the most frequent disabling injury is to his hands. Deminers are often poorly educated labourers. When they lose a hand they may lose any opportunity to earn a living. In a post-conflict economy, that can be a death sentence. The use of Chris Natt's training aids could lead to a significant reduction in severe injuries."
The designer, who was awarded a bursary from industrial designer Sir James Dyson, has also developed a series of hand tools that allow the deminers to remain at a safe distance from any potential blast.
Mr Natt said: "People are essentially using garden trowels to remove landmines. The reason why these guys are getting injured is because they're so close to the origin of the detonation. When a blast goes off, the pressures that come out of it will decay rapidly.
"If you're really close to the mine, the flesh on your hand is going to be stripped from the bone. But if you move the guy back – we're only talking fractionally, about a foot – the sorts of injuries they might sustain are not going to be life-threatening – you're going to be able to walk away from it."
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