In Humanitarian Explosive Ordnance Disposal?

In the 15.2.2011 issue of the ›Journal of ERW and Mine Action‹ of the James Madison University the interested reader finds two controversial but very interesting contributions on the theme of safety in respect of explosive ordnance and the relevant meaning of the term quality to be taken as the basis in the production of the same.

Study of the contributions makes clear once again that what should be understood by the term ›quality in explosive ordnance disposal‹ is in dispute not only internationally but also in one‘s own country and is thus less than clear. As a result all the tasks postulated for mine action practitioners stand on virtual foundations.

Mrs. Tamar Gabelnick, a representative of the ICBL, presents once more the demand for the complete elimination of all explosive ordnance regardless of the danger for the general public these represent when she states: »We can only be ›Mine Safe‹ when we are ›Mine Free‹«. Naturally she lists a range of good reasons for this 100% demand such as, for example, the opportunity to use at a later stage areas for, for example, structures that require deep excavations. Here the mere near-to-the-surface clearance of explosive ordnance is inadequate.

On the other side Roger Hess, the Director of Field Operations of the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, a person who is similarly well known and respected in the relevant professional world, takes the position of the technical practitioner. Although this means leaving out a number of very interesting details the content of his article can be compressed to the maxim: ›Not as good as possible but as good as necessary‹.

He bases his view on the reality of the multitude of possible tasks and the limited funds available, this situation meaning that the budget available must be used not only in a frugal but also in a well-planned manner. He also mentions the double standards situation in the sponsor countries which often employ standards for themselves which differ from the ones they recommend for the recipient countries.

The matter becomes completely incomprehensible when one finds that – although the supranational organizations refer to the ISO standard in respect of quality management – there is no orientation on the relevant processes. To this extent the existing system has certainly first of all to be turned upside down. Not until the term quality has been defined and brought into line with reality can the QC measures and technical demands be laid down for the implementing organizations. Otherwise we once again have the situation of the tail wagging the dog.

It is likely that the difference between the two perspectives results from the difference in the backgrounds of the two authors. In our view Mrs. Gabelnick‘s approach is a theoretical, system-critical one that is aimed at changing policies. To this extent she treats the question in an idealistic manner which neither can nor will permit the existing, real conditions to be gone into.

As a practitioner who has to produce safety, Roger Hess finds himself in the unreasonable position of having to make decisions on who might die and who may live. If he follows Gabelnick‘s approach, a large number of potential hazards will remain untouched for an extended period of time in favour of the optimized treatment of a lesser number of tasks. To this extent it can be deduced that he favours optimization of clearance activities over maximization of safety.

This position is considerably more complex and more demanding than the claim of the absoluteness of the ›policy‹. It sets as preconditions the determination, evaluation and combining together of very different

items of data. When the decision-making processes are carried out in a responsible manner, the taking of this position will certainly be on a par with the decision-making processes carried out by managements in industry and can be taken as an example for the degree of professionalization that has established itself in the field of mine action in the last decade.

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