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Machines from the Digger Foundation have been deployed in a total of sixteen countries: In Europe in the Balkans (Kosovo, North Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina) and also in France and Switzerland; in Africa, in Sudan and South Sudan, Benin, Chad, Senegal, Mozambique, Mali and Angola and in the Middle East (Israel) and South-East Asia (Cambodia). This means that millions of square metres and thousands of people have been freed definitively from the grip of anti-personnel mines.

Some of the actions undertaken by the Digger Foundation are explained in detail here.

Angola

Angola - Map of remaining minefields in August 2019

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 !

Cambodia

Cambodia

Cambodia

Cambodia

Cambodia

Cambodia

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.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Before / After

Before / After

Before / After

Before / After

Before / After

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.

Machines from the Digger Foundation have been deployed in a total of sixteen countries: In Europe in the Balkans (Kosovo, North Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina) and also in France and Switzerland; in Africa, in Sudan and South Sudan, Benin, Chad, Senegal, Mozambique, Mali and Angola and in the Middle East (Israel) and South-East Asia (Cambodia). This means that millions of square metres and thousands of people have been freed definitively from the grip of anti-personnel mines.

Mozambique

Mozambique

Mozambique

When the Ottawa Treaty was signed in 1998 Mozambique was one of countries in the world with the largest number of landmines and was also one of the poorest. In 2015 seventeen years later, the country was declared “free from all known landmines” and became the first country to cease mine clearance in its territory in such conditions. This is probably one of the finest successes in humanitarian mine clearance work and the Digger Foundation is particularly proud to have played its part. In 2012 it made available one of its D-3 mine clearance machines which helped clear several hundred thousands of square metres.

In Mozambique anti-personnel mines and other explosive remnants of war were legacies of the war of independence (1964-1974) and the civil war that succeeded it (1977-1992). It is estimated that one million people died and five million people were displaced in the civil war. Over these decades of violence all the warring parties deposited landmines in towns, along roads, runways, bridges, energy infrastructures and military positions.

In 2012 members of the NGO APOPO deemed that Mozambique could complete the mine clearance across its territory before 2014 as the country had already committed to it after an initial extension of the first deadline, but on condition that mechanical resources were deployed.

The Digger Foundation took up the challenge. We immediately started the requisite fundraising for the pledge to Mozambique of a DIGGER D-3, which would be overseen by the NGO APOPO. A few months later and thanks to towns and public and private institutions in Switzerland, the machine arrived in the capital Maputo to immediately depart for the north-west of the country to start its work.  This machine enabled the de-mining objective of 2.5 million square metres of ground (617 football pitches) to be achieved.

In 2014 the machine was mainly deployed to clear a zone of 524,800 square meters that stretched along the high-voltage line that supplies the town of Beira and its half a million inhabitants. These works were performed in 246 days and made it possible to resume maintenance and repairs on the 82 pylons making it safe once again for the people living and working on the land nearby, not to mention the children whose routes to school sometimes ran adjacent to unmarked mine areas.

This determination of all the parties involved in the landmine clearance in this country, and above all the determination of the inhabitants themselves, started to bear fruit. In December 2014 the Tete province was declared landmine-free, followed by the Sofala province despite the unexpected discovery of new suspected or flooded sites in marshland, with finally a few months later the entire country being declared landmine-free. In total, between 2008 and 2014, 3,000 zones were cleared – the equivalent of an area over 55 square metres – and 86,000 landmines were destroyed. Mozambique is proof that the battle against landmines can be won!

Looking back, there is evidence that the landmine clearance has had huge beneficial effects on the socio-economic development of the country and has contributed to a reduction in poverty. Investments in the exploitation of natural resources, agriculture and infrastructure construction along with the operations of several railway companies have resumed as has cross-border travel and commerce with Zimbabwe which benefits the local populations of both countries. Rural communities now enjoy improved and more extensive access to health services and education (the-monitor.org). Mozambique has also become a source of hope!

Chad

Chadian children

Wadi Doum

N'Djamena

In 2011 the Digger Foundation organised and completed an extensive mine clearance operation at Ouadi Doum in the north of Chad on the sites of a former Libyan military base. Since its recapture by the Chadian army in 1987 it had remained in the centre of mined belt about 100 m wide and 47 km long and was also considered to be the biggest known minefield in the country.

In 2010 it was estimated that 300,000 Chadians were living in high-risk zones, mainly in the northern provinces where most of the anti-personnel mines and anti-tank mines (manufactured in particular in the United States and in several European countries) were concentrated along with unexploded munitions.  These explosive devices were mainly dispersed outside of the minefields, were never flagged nor was access blocked by barriers at the time the Ottawa Treaty was signed. Mines often afflicted those rare zones in this desert region that are suitable for animal rearing and agriculture.  They disrupted displacements, in particular of nomad animal rearers, decimated herds of camels and restricted access to oases. The vast majority of their victims have been children and adult civilians.  During the 2000s, mine clearance programmes were often interrupted due to lack of funding. (Sources: the-monitor.org and archives.the-monitor.org)

The ten-month operation carried out by the Digger Foundation with a team of about ten people received its sole funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (DDC) and which amounted to CHF 1,125 million. The manufacturing cost of this machine which was not included in the budget allocated by the DDC was covered from fundraising by the Foundation.

Designed in collaboration with the National Mine Clearance Centre of Chad, the project involved creating access routes on both sides of the village of Ouadi Doum in order to clear mines directly from the lowest risk zones. It also performed regular surveys to control the manual mine clearance carried out in the high-risk zones by the British NGO, MAG. This has resulted in safe access routes being expanded by several kilometres permitting the herds to pass without risk. A total of 420,000 square meters have been liberated. The high proportion (up to a third) of anti-tank mines prevented the machine being used for demining the entire surface area, although the machine's resistance to an explosion of such a mine has been tested and demonstrated.

To fulfil this dual objective, the Digger Foundation used one of its D-3 remote-controlled armoured mine clearance machines which was also fitted with cameras and equipped for the first time with GPS-RTK technology to secure very precise positioning. Training local staff in mine clearance was also an important part of the project.

The operation proved to be a total success despite the extremely harsh environmental conditions along with problems of logistics and supplies, notably of fuel, aggravated by the eruption of the Libyan civil war during that period.

Assistance for obtaining funding

Benin

Bosnia

Mozambique

Senegal

We are the only demining machines producers worldwide to work not for profit (foundation/company).

In practice, where is the difference ?

•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.

Also different through innovation

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:

DIGGER D-250

D-250

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 :

Video

SMART MDD

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 :

SCRAPER

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 :

Video