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The Digger Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation recognised as a public utility in Switzerland. It is based in Tavannes, in the Bernese Jura. The organisation promotes technical assistance projects in the field of humanitarian mine clearance. Operating under the name of DIGGER DTR, it develops, implements and markets mine clearance machines (demonstrating Swiss industrial and technological expertise) to assist mine clearers and significantly increase the efficiency of their work which is also made less dangerous and expensive as a result.
in 1998. Frédéric Guerne, an electronics engineer, had just finished a 2 year mine detection project with the EPFL. He later crossed paths with Michel Diot (Co-founder of the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action) who encouraged him to focus his efforts on designing and constructing a mine clearing tool to make the work of the mine clearers easier and safer. Frédéric Guerne teamed up with some 30 volunteers from a range of different backgrounds as part of this project.
Following some 15,000 hours of intense activity, the DIGGER D-1 prototype was finally put to use in the field. After this experience, the mine clearers wanted to go even further and develop the specifications. The aim now was not only to clear the ground of vegetation, but also to detonate the mines by turning the soil over. Achieving this took a further 3 years of development and a thorough redesign to create a machine with the necessary power. The organisation operated on an entirely volunteer basis for 6 years. However, the scope of the project required the organisation to gradually become more professional. For the last 10 years, Digger has been employing some 15 paid staff at the site of the former military arsenal in Tavannes.
The benefits of Digger
What is the rationale of existence of a small not-for-profit structure in the atypical and highly specialized world of humanitarian mechanical demining?
Due to its status, the Digger Foundation can’t reward shareholders. All the available means are dedicated to preparation of projects with governmental and operational partners, and to research and development. This characteristic leads de facto to a constant technological progression, which fits to the evolving needs of the users in the field.
As an officially recognized of public utility organisation by the Swiss government, and ZEWO certified, the Digger Foundation is a direct interlocutor of the institutional donors, contrary to the commercial manufacturers. This approach paves a unique way to provide demining machines to requesting countries which do not have the means to access to such effective tools. This concept works. The concrete proof of this is to be found in the operations successfully conducted in Sudan, South Sudan, Chad, Senegal, Mozambique, Benin and Bosnia.
In addition to being an interlocutor of the donors, the Digger Foundation, with its many years of experience and operations in about fifteen countries has become a recognised expert entity in this field of activities. Whether it be at technology level, efficient project design, logistic, training, standards and relationship within the international demining world, Digger is an honest partner, with a comprehensive know-how and renown for its professionalism.
The institutional donors we have worked with in various field activities are unanimous. They describe Digger as an efficient partner, qualified and extremely motivated. In the humanitarian field, operations are not always proving to be a success, the outcome of the projects far from certain as contexts are complex and evolving. To work with a competent partner can make a real difference.
Coming from the industrial world, the Digger founder, Frédéric Guerne, wished inject within the humanitarian demining world, the spirit of performance which prevails in it. With no compromises in regards of his ethic based upon helping others.
A weapon against landmines
The response proposed by Digger to tackle the problem of landmines takes the form of an armoured blast-resistant vehicle which is light enough to be transported in areas where communication channels are a far cry from western standards.
In order to guarantee the complete safety of the operator, who remains at a good distance from the danger zone, the vehicle is remote controlled. It is fitted with a device which clears the densest vegetation and tills the soil down to a depth of 25 cm. This operation makes the mines safe by preparing the terrain for post-machinery inspection in the best possible conditions. This last stage enables the area to be declared safe in accordance with the stringent humanitarian mine clearing standards in force.
Proof that it works
With experience in more than 10 African countries and in the Balkans, the figures speak for themselves: a machine with a team of 10 people (mine clearers, mechanics, drivers, cooks and medical personnel) can achieve the same results as a team of 200 to 300 manual mine clearers and their managers.
Since a manual mine clearer is paid $250 per month on average, this means an annual mine clearing cost in excess of $750,000!
In reality, despite the substantial initial outlay, the machine causes a significant fall in the cost of mine clearing per m².
By way of example, after 18 months of using a DIGGER D-3, Handicap International in Senegal saw the price of mine clearing per m² fall 10-fold. Not to mention the bonus of zero risk for the mine clearers!
In addition to its active role on the ground, since its inception, Digger has been working to communicate about the problems of landmines through numerous conferences. A project for a special and original Digger museum took shape in May 2011 with the aim of reinforcing this educational and awareness-raising approach.
Expo Digger is located at the production site in Tavannes and depicts the daily lives of the victims in a very realistic manner. It demonstrates how the solutions provided bring renewed hope and dignity to thousands of people.
Notes and references
- , An introduction to the Digger Foundation.