When he was a boy in Afghanistan, Massoud Hassani and his brother made toys that would roll across the desert landscape pushed by the wind. Too often they’d lose those toys. Not in a neighbor’s yard, or a tree too tall to climb, but because the toys would blow into land that had been filled with one of the most horrible weapons of modern warfare: land mines, which have killed or injured over a million people worldwide since 1975.
Now Hassani is back in Afghanistan, developing a grown-up version of one of his old toys, the Mine Kafon, as a way of safely detonating landmines for about 1/100th the cost of conventional mine-clearing methods.
Thankfully, landmine use has dropped rather significantly since a treaty barring their use was enacted about 15 years ago, but they’re still used in a number of places today. (Notably and unsurprisingly, the U.S. hasn’t signed the treaty.) They can cost as little as $1 per mine to place, and are often dropped from the air, making precise mapping hard. Conventional means for finding and disarming the mines — designed to maim rather than kill, thus tying up other soldiers’ time and energy in caring for their wounded comrade — can run up to $1,000-1,500 per mine.
Hassani says his Mine Kafon costs about $50 to build and can detonate three or four mines in a single trip. That brings the cost to underdeveloped communities of getting rid of the mines to only about 10 times what it cost the armies to put them there in the first place. It’s certainly not a complete solution, but it’s an elegant one — and well within the reach of many of the communities most-affected by land mine placement. Sometimes simpler technology really is beautiful.
More on the general topic of landmines at the Landmines and Cluster Munitions Monitor.