You’ve accidentally stumbled onto an old minefield. Surrounded by land mines buried somewhere in the ground, you don’t know where to step. One wrong move and you could be blown into pieces.
The horrors of war remain long after the fighting has stopped. Worldwide, over 100 million land mines are lying underneath the ground, waiting for someone to step on them. And unfortunately, 90% of land mine victims are civilians, and half of them are children.
Africa is the continent with the highest number of land mines. And Zimbabwe has an estimated 5,500 land mines per kilometer (0.6 mi). It only takes one minute to bury 1,000 of them. But even with current technology, it would take over 1,000 years to clear all the landmines in the world.
Can your phone detonate a land mine? Why should you be wary of a pile of rocks? And how could a rat save your life?
Step 1. Don’t use your phone
Land mines are explosive devices designed to detonate from the weight of vehicles or people. They’re placed under the ground where they could hide quietly for years. When they’re triggered, they project metal and debris that can destroy the victim’s limbs and even kill them. If you find yourself on a minefield, freeze exactly where you are.
Let everyone around know so they’ll stop moving too and won’t detonate an explosive. Yell for help, and keep in mind that phone or radio signals can trigger remotely operated mines. If you have a GPS, use it so your rescuers know your exact location. But try not to use a two-way radio since radio waves will trigger certain types of mines.
Step 2. Get your wheels
In 2004, in Afghanistan, two security forces airmen were patrolling and became trapped in an unmarked minefield. Six explosions surrounded the vehicle, destroying their heavily armored Humvee’s tires so they could not escape. Two hours later, the airmen were rescued without injury.
They were able to survive due to their military training and ballistic-resistant vehicle. Considering the damage to the Humvee, they wouldn’t have survived without it. So, unless you’ve had military training or have access to a Humvee, you’d better stay out of minefields.
Step 3. Learn the symbols
Land mines are ridiculously cheap. Their cost of production could be as low as $3, but to get rid of all these deadly threats would cost $100 billion. If you’re traveling through an unfamiliar area, get local information about the land mine risk.
It’s important to know that there could be signs warning of land mines, but you may not recognize them. That’s why you’ll need to memorize them. A skull-and-crossbones and a red triangle are internationally recognized symbols for minefields, but sometimes the marker identifying that mines are present may only be a bunch of sticks or even a pile of rocks.
Step 4. Follow the rats
A rat could be your best friend in this situation. But not any rat, only the African giant pouched rat. They have lousy eyesight, but their excellent sense of smell can detect as little as 28 g (1 oz) of explosive material. Their laser-like focus on sniffing explosives helps them clear an area in 20 minutes that would take humans 25 hours to do.
Step 5. Retrace your steps
If you don’t have a Humvee, a specially-trained rat, or a rescue crew to help you, you’ll need to escape the minefield on your own. Look for footprints or tire tracks. These are safe areas to walk on. If they weren’t safe, the people or vehicles stepping onto them before you would have triggered explosions.
You could also follow your footsteps back to where you entered the minefield. If an explosive detonates, drop to the ground immediately. Land mines explode upward, so you’ll be safer if you’re closer to the ground.
- “Landmine Awareness” 2021. unhcr.org.
- “6 Steps To Survive A Minefield – H.E.A.T Survival Training”. Kalala, Eunice. 2018. H.E.A.T Survival Training.
- “How Rats Are Saving Human Lives With Their Noses”. 2017. INSH.
- “Airmen escape minefield unharmed”. U.S. Air Force.
- “How To Escape A Minefield”. 2021. Business Insider.
- “International Campaign To Ban Landmines – What Is A Landmine | Problem | ICBL”. 2021. icbl.org.