Cleaning up the killing fields

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Science  27 Apr 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6387, pp. 371
DOI: 10.1126/science.360.6387.371

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Across Colombia, land mines killed or injured more than 11,500 people during a decades-long war between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and a 2016 peace deal has not eliminated the threat. Mines continue to kill or maim dozens each year, and in rural areas, they keep villagers who fled during the conflict from returning home. To tackle the scourge, Colombia has committed to ridding itself of land mines by 2021. But so far, only 11% of an estimated 52 square kilometers littered with mines has been cleared. The going is slow because in Colombia, the FARC and other armed groups crafted improvised explosive devices from PVC pipes, plastic soda bottles, and other low-tech containers that can't be found with metal detectors. Colombia's rugged terrain, wet climate, and lush forests also make demining a stiff challenge. Physicists and engineers are now testing new methods for finding land mines, seeking to speed up the process of finding and disarming these weapons.