In October 2016 a brand new DIGGER D-250 machine arrived in Angola at the HALO Trust base. About two years earlier during a demonstration day in our location in Switzerland, representatives from HALO Trust, Swiss Canton of Bern, U.S. Department of State and Digger Foundation shared a dream: initiating a project with a DIGGER D-250 machine in order to complete landmine clearance of Huambo Province in Angola. In October 2016 this dream was about to become true.
This was not the first project in that specific province, with the mine clearance effort in Angola having started around 22 years earlier. But this one, using a demining machine, had the potential to increase the speed of clearance dramatically.
Two and a half years after the arrival of the DIGGER D-250, it was done ! (only one minefield remains due to its sensitive location around a military base).
That's the reason, when we have a look at the map displaying known minefields in Angola in August 2019, we can clearly see a huge area (representing 82 % of the total size of Switzerland ) in the middle of the country with only one remaining area to clear.
That's the Province of Huambo.
The dream came true !
In Cambodia The Digger Foundation is using a D-250 demining machine which has been financed by two Swiss benefactors, Mrs. Miyuki and Mr. Victor Villiger, a unique event in the history of the Foundation.
This machine has been made available to the English NGO, Mines Advisory Group (MAG), who have been present in Cambodia for 25 years and shall be used under the supervision of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA).
It will typically be used for technical surveys. This procedure, which forms part of the humanitarian demining standards, consists of confirming through technical methods of decontamination and verification, the presence, type and exact position of anti-personnel mines or war explosive residues in a zone often previously identified as dangerous during a non-technical survey, which consists primarily of collecting information without any intervention in the field. This is an important step for the effectiveness of the entire demining process as it quickly and safely enables large areas of land, where other demining methods do not need to be deployed, to be returned to the population.
The purpose for using this machine is to substantially increase the effectiveness of this type of mine clearance and to return land to the communities more quickly than is possible when solely manual demining methods are used.
MAG estimates that the decontamination of an area of about forty hectares which may cost up to two or three years of work with a manual demining team, will in future – depending on the type of contamination – take less than six months with the reinforcement support of the machine. Moreover, this estimate agrees with what was established by HI, the operator of the DIGGER D-3 that has been deployed in Casamance (Senegal) since 2012.
The beneficiaries of this project are rural communities who are largely dependent on subsistence agriculture and on gathering products from the forest. They live mainly in remote areas which are difficult to access and with poor infrastructures. In the eastern provinces of the country where MAG is focusing its action, the increasing demand for land which goes hand-in-hand with recent economic development, is forcing poor rural populations, despite the risks, to farm marginal land where the presence of mines is suspected, even proven.
War broke out in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992 following the break-up of Yugoslavia, itself a consequence of the collapse of the communist governments in Eastern Europe. In 1995, at the signing of the Dayton Treaties, it was estimated that 100,000 people had died and 2.2 million become refugees or been displaced. Bosnia-Herzegovina became the country most affected in Europe by the scourge of landmines and explosive remnants of war. Humanitarian demining (i.e. demining for the benefit of the civilian population) is carried out by a specialist army battalion, as is the case in many countries, as well as by local and international non-governmental organisations and commercial companies.
Two demining machines from the Digger Foundation are deployed in this country. The oldest is a DIGGER D-3, which has the exceptional distinction of having been financed by funds raised by schoolchildren in Lower Austria, at the initiative of the President of the Youth Movement of the local Red Cross. It was inaugurated in Vienna on 24 June 2009, in the presence of Austrian Foreign Minister, Michael Spindelegger, the Bosnian Defence Minister, Zirko Marjanic, and hundreds of children.
A year later, the machine had already cleared several thousand square metres of ground, particularly in the region of Zavidovići and Lopare, in the centre and east of the country. In 2014, it contributed to the clearance of 500,000 square metres of ground and the destruction of at least 600 landmines – returning a total of 8 million square metres of land to the people. At that time, it was used in particular for demining of a disused military base in Sarajevo as well as clearing minefields in the Tuzla region.
The need for a second machine quickly became clear, if Bosnia was to fulfil its commitments agreed to in the Treaty of Ottawa. The Digger Foundation was in the process of looking for funding for a DIGGER D-250 when, in May 2014, the country was hit by the worst flooding in 120 years. Aware to the devastating consequences of this disaster (land becoming impassable, mines being buried or displaced by the flood water and landslides outside the restricted areas), we took the risk of delivering the machine before it had been fully funded (eventually this was provided thanks to Swiss Solidarity), and equipped it with an additional mine-clearing cutter, an hydraulic winch and earthmoving tools (backhoe and bucket). A year on, with the support of the NGO Norwegian People’s Aid (who own the machine) and under the auspices of the National Demining Authority of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BHMAC), the Bosnian Army's demining battalion had cleared more than 300,000 square metres of ground with the DIGGER D-250 and sifted 51 cubic metres of sediment potentially containing mines carried by the flood water, mainly in the region of Brčko, the country's most heavily mined region.
In 2018, the municipalities of Vevey and Lausanne financed the purchase of spare parts for the refurbishment of the DIGGER D-3. The Digger Foundation covered the travel expenses and the cost of the technicians’ working hours on site.
The Digger Foundation’s two demining vehicles accounted for half of the total fleet of demining machines operating in the country. Thanks to them, it has been estimated that the cost of reclaiming the land comes to less than 30 eurocents per square metre, whereas it would have been twenty times higher if demining had been done solely by hand.
We are the only demining machines producers worldwide to work not for profit (foundation/company).
•We provide support to customers who are facing needs but could not afford to pay. That is where lies our choice to be a foundation. To be recognized as a non-profit Foundation allow us to discuss with the institutional donors (humanitarian assistance of the Confederation, cantons and cities).
•We are frequently approached by national authorities facing imperative need of assistance for demining their territories. Together, we build complete projects thanks to our own field experience.
•We submit these projects to potential donors.
Thus, thanks to the Digger philosophy, we have successfully carried out operations in Sudan, South Sudan, Chad, Senegal, Mozambique, Benin, Bosnia and Angola.
Our innovative R&D department allows Digger to stay at the top of current technologies. Our three main products are the culmination of many years of research and field experience:
Remote-controlled and fully 360° armored, our demining machine has already proven its efficiency on the field on numerous occasions in more than 15 different countries. The DIGGER D-250 is compatible with a lot of Caterpillar tools (forklift, backhoe excavator, winch, etc) as well as with on-demand options. The machine can even be piloted in a thick dust cloud thanks to the optional camera system and embarked RTK-GPS.
This video shows the resistance of the DIGGER D-250 to a blast of up to 8kgs of TNT explosive :
Our harness for free-running mine-detection dogs, developed in collaboration with the GICHD : Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining) is embedded with an electronic system allowing us to get rid of the leash - major obstacle to the huge potential of mine detection dogs. The dog handler can give oral commands to the dog from a distance through his smartphone which is connected to the speaker in the harness. In the integrated software, the handler can see all relevant statistics in real time on the smartphone : area covered, area left to cover, dog's position, GPS coordinates of probable mine alerts given by the dog, etc as well as the live video feed from the harness camera. Collected data is stored and can then be exported in a predefined report compatible with the IMSMA system developed by the GICHD.
Check out this video to learn more :
Our SCRAPER system allows the quick modification of almost any construction machines to render it remote controllable. This new system is particularly useful in a post-war context where a lot of explosive traps are still hidden under the rubble. SCRAPER will guarantee a safe distance for the operator who will pilot the machine through augmented reality goggles connected to a stereoscopic camera in the machine's cabin. SCRAPER is also useful when dangerous materials have to be moved or disposed of (radioactive material or chemicals) or in risky situations (collapsing buildings).Our DOME project combines the SMART harness and the SCRAPER system under the same information management system. Its potential in Syria or Iraq is huge.
Check out the presentation video here :