Japan: Panel on innovative solutions to address landmine contamination in Africa
More than 70 participants from private companies, government, academia and NGOs (mainly from Japan and Africa) participated in the online event. The discussion focused on leveraging advanced technologies through partnership among humanitarian, private and academic sectors to address the issue of weapon contamination in Africa.
Collaboration among the three sectors has been promoted in Japan since Waseda University signed a memorandum of understanding with the ICRC in 2018, followed by NEC Corporation in 2021, to develop solutions using their advanced technologies for detecting landmines. The panel discussion featured a lively exchange of opinions among speakers from Waseda University, NEC, the ICRC along with representatives of the African Union (AU), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
WATCH: Full video of the seminar
Opening remarks and keynote speech
Kusakabe Hideki, deputy director-general of the International Cooperation Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan, opened the event by underlining that the ICRC is an indispensable partner for Japan in providing humanitarian assistance as it is not easy for a country to provide assistance bilaterally in conflict-affected areas. He welcomed the ICRC's strengthened partnership with Japan's academic and private sectors for addressing humanitarian challenges in Africa, highlighting the recent partnership with NEC Cooperation.
Patrick G. Youssef, regional director for the ICRC in Africa, provided an overview of the three major humanitarian challenges in Africa: violation of international humanitarian law, people being displaced on a massive scale and food insecurity. Describing explosive weapons including landmines as a "tragic legacy of armed conflicts in Africa and elsewhere" that result in long-term consequences, he underlined the need for respect for humanitarian law. Youssef stressed the importance of partnerships for overcoming such challenges and welcomed Japan's cross-sector collaboration with the ICRC.
Moderated by Koji Sakane, Chief Representative of Sudan office, JICA, the first half of the panel discussion gave an overview of the African Union and the ICRC's efforts in addressing weapon contamination. This was followed by the NEC Corporation and Waseda University explaining their ongoing projects with the ICRC.
Peter Otim, Peace and Security Department, AU, outlined the efforts of the AU in addressing the issue of landmines in Africa since 1997, when the First Continental Conference of African Experts on Landmines was held. Member countries had endorsed an action plan at the conference to work towards a landmine-free Africa. However, the AU, which includes 36 landmine-affected countries among 55, has been struggling to achieve the objectives. Pointing to the high cost of decontamination and limited financial resources as major challenges, Otim welcomed cross-sector partnerships for providing technical and financial support.
Nan Buzard, head of innovation in the ICRC, explained that as guardian of international humanitarian law, the ICRC has been working to address the issue of weapon contamination based on the principle of distinction, which requires distinguishing between civilians and combatants to limit civilian harm. "In 2020, over 7,000 people were killed or injured by landmines and 80 per cent of the total were civilians," said Buzard, reminding that the use of landmines violates the principle.
Hideyuki Sawada, professor at Department of Applied Physics, Waseda University, introduced their project to detect landmines using thermal camera and machine learning and shared about the field trials conducted in Jordan and Denmark. He explained that thermal cameras are attached to a drone to detect the heat emitted by buried landmines, while machine learning is used to identify the types of landmines.
Ernö Kovacs, NEC Laboratories Europe, also presented their ongoing project to apply data recognition and AI technologies to predict where landmines are buried. In this project, data are gathered from multiple sources such as thermal camera footages, historical data bases and individual reports, while also factoring in socio-economic, historical and geographical aspects of a country. The data are analysed using AI technologies to create a "risk table", which helps people who fly drones to directly access the area where landmines are likely buried. Kovacs said they are also working on data security, which is crucial when sharing data among organizations involved in humanitarian activities.
Mitsuhiro Murooka, senior vice-president & CCO, NEC Corporation, concluded the event by reminding the audience of the unprecedented and compounded challenges we face today including conflicts, climate change and pandemics. Acknowledging that technologies alone cannot solve such complex issues, he stressed the importance of strengthening partnerships among humanitarian, public, academic and private sectors in order to develop the best possible solutions.