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Kiyoshi Amemiya with children in Afghanistan
The first time I saw the horrors of antipersonnel landmines was on a business trip to Cambodia in 1994. We are told that there are 110 million buried landmines worldwide today, and there are another 250 million landmines in inventories. This is like a devil's weapon that can be purchased for only about three dollars, and they are increasing in number by about 20 landmines every day.
In Africa one person is injured by a landmine every twenty minutes. In Afghanistan, four children under the age of sixteen die every day, and four are injured. In Angola, landmines are buried in an area covering 420,000 square kilometers, larger than the land area of Japan. The reasons for so many children among the victims are that, first of all, children are closer to the ground and more likely to be injured in a blast, and second, they try to pick them up, attracted by their colorful appearance and shapes, mistaking them for toys.
And kids can't read the letters spelling "danger." Children lose arms and legs during their growing years, and then they are wracked by unimaginable pain. Artificial limbs can cost $3,000 each.
Landmine removal test, Afghanistan
Landmines can be lethal for more than 50 years. Removing them by hand means risking your life. Not only that, it would take a thousand years to remove them all. I heard these facts on my flight back from Cambodia, and simply could not hold back my anger.
Then I had an idea. - to modify the excavators * that my company handles, and turn them into machines to remove and destroy anti-personnel landmines. I made a promise to myself to work on this idea, and as soon as I returned to Japan I created a project within the company. But what can a company with only 60 employees accomplish? And this work involved danger. "Even for a small-town factory there's a way to contribute something to the world. Please help me battle the world's landmines," I said. And my employees and their families responded positively.
Required was the strength that can withstand a blast at 1000°C. So was the durability to handle rocks and bedrock. After a difficult process, we completed a pilot machine four years later. At the head of an excavator, we had attached a rotating high-speed cutter. It took another two years, but we finally completed the world's first landmine removal machine that could be controlled remotely.
Safe and effective, these machines have the potential to get rid of all of the buried landmines within fifty years. To date, through the Japanese government, we have supplied 50 machines to the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, and governments in a total of five countries. In 2004, they succeeded in removing more than 4,000 landmines in Afghanistan, and 8,000 in Nicaragua.
Without removing landmines, you cannot invest in farming and building schools. The world may be interested in the countries like Angola, rich in mineral resources, but landmines are an obstacle to their future. One thing that we gave special consideration in our design was to support the self-sufficiency of local people. We help by providing technology transfers for machinery operation and maintenance, and the machine itself is designed to be versatile. By changing the attachments, the people can use this machine for more regular work. For example, in a Nicaraguan village, an area where the landmines had been cleared away was cultivated and restored as an orchard. Today, the village ships 600,000 cases of oranges every year.
We worked very hard for ten years to make a contribution to the world, but at last I feel like this effort is getting some attention. In the future, I think that the potential of this equipment will grow globally.
(Published in July 2005)