Rwanda has become the first country to become landmine-free. Under the Ottawa Convention, this mean that not only as Rwanda detected and removed all landmines placed on its territory, but all its stockpiled mines. Impressively, under the treaty, Rwanda had a full year more to achieve landmine-free status, so, in a somewhat rare event under international law, they’re ahead of schedule on compliance.
Largely because of security issues related to South Korea and the DMZ, the U.S. still has not acceded to the convention.
In Rwanda, mine detection dogs were used to sweep the country side, and to identify and secure any mine found. Dogs aren’t the only option, however. One of my favorite international charities, APOPO, is pioneering the use of heartbreakingly adorable Gambian pouched rats as landmine detectors. The HeroRATS have a lot of advantages over dogs when it comes to mine detection, particularly in developing countries. They are cheaper than dogs, quicker to train and reach maturity, easy to motivate, and — perhaps most importantly — are light enough where they will not trigger the landmines themselves. Currently, the rats are used for demining efforts in Tanzania and Mozambique.
HeroRATS are a versatile tool for international development — they can also be trained to detect tuberculosis infections. Although as accurate as humans in detecting TB, they are about a hundred times faster:
HeroRATS offer a local solution to the TB epidemic. A rat can evaluate 40 samples in 10 minutes, equal to what a skilled lab technician, using microscopy, will do in two days. Without requiring sophisticated instruments, this method is non invasive and can handle a high volume of samples, all very important factors in a pro-active screening approach.