The share of foreign financial aid for demining efforts in Ukraine will only increase in the future. Japan, for instance, has provided part of its nearly USD 600 million (UAH 22 billion) grant funds for humanitarian demining.
Billions of dollars, thousands of deminers
The Ukrainian government has an approximate estimate of all demining work. 174,000 square kilometres of Ukrainian territory is believed to be contaminated with explosive ordinances, and their cleanup will require USD 37 billion, Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal said last week. This is a huge amount of money, comparable to the annual budget of Ukraine.
This has already caused a stir.
Last year, five demining operators were registered in Ukraine. Now there are 17 of them, including six that operate on a commercial basis, and another 29 are in the process of obtaining licences.
Deminers in Ukraine are being trained like on an assembly line, with their number now standing at 3,000, or twice more than nine months ago. Given that the cost of training and equipping each deminer is UAH 5 million, UAH 15 billion has been invested in human resources alone.
Demining personnel is an acute problem now, experts say, pointing out that it is very difficult for trained deminers to get a reservation from mobilisation.
"There are demining groups that have to train new deminers almost continuously, because the guys go to the Armed Forces," an owner of a demining company told LIGA.net, adding this increases the cost and time.
A solution could be bringing experienced deminers to Ukraine from Asian countries, such as Cambodia and Laos, which have the relevant experience. The idea is that foreigners are not drafted into the Ukrainian army, and they would not need much time learning basic Ukrainian.
It looks like deminers will have to save on other expenses as well.
Judging by the Ukrainian prime minister’s statement, the government expects to spend UAH 78,000 for demining a hectare.
This is significantly less than charged by professional deminers, which estimate ‘manual’ demining at UAH 5 million per hectare, and machine demining—that is, with special equipment—at UAH 300,000 per hectare. Why did the Ukrainian government cut the costs so much?
Government officials often mention the example of the first demining tender, which ended last month. Forests of Ukraine, a state enterprise, had ordered the demining of three hectares of forests in the Zhytomyr region. The tender had been won by the only participant—another state-owned enterprise, Ukroboronservice, which had offered UAH 550,400 against the starting price of UAH 688,400.
Interestingly, Forests of Ukraine said in the tender application they needed to destroy 24 pieces of explosive ordnance. It is a mystery how it had counted them before the deminers.
This tender gives an idea of the cost of demining one hectare: 183,000 UAH. But the Ukrainian prime minister proposes to pay 2.4 times less.
Adding to the intrigue is the fact that first deputy prime minister Yulia Svyrydenko, whose economy ministry finances the demining efforts, put the total cost at USD 50 billion, or UAH 105,000 per hectare.
Taras Vysotskyi, first deputy minister of agrarian policy of Ukraine, says that the mechanism of budget funding for demining has not yet been approved. It is only known that the Prozorro platform will be used.
"We are now deciding whether it will be an after-the-fact payment for each demined hectare, or an advance payment for a certain area, or whether it will be participation in projects on a co-financing basis," Mr Vysotskyi told LIGA.net.
"So far, there is no answer. It is very important to show that funding, as well as the execution of work, is transparent and controlled."
Transparency is necessary in order to gain the trust of international donors, whose help is critical so that the demining of Ukrainian fields does not take many generations.
"We will not solve the demining problem without external assistance, both technical and financial," Andriy Dykun, head of the All-Ukrainian Agrarian Council, says.
Who is involved
In most cases, farmers themselves or local residents with some demining experience and metal detectors undertake the demining of their own fields. They work without licences, at their own risk.
Such services are rather cheap, costing from UAH 5,000 to 15,000 per hectare, but are not safeguarded against accidents. Still, due to the relatively low price, the practice is common in the Mykolaiv and Kharkiv regions, as well as other areas close to the frontline.
A more civilised way for agricultural companies to create their own demining units. In this case, specialists receive necessary training, and a given company goes through all the procedures to obtain the necessary licences.
A case in point is Nibulon Agro Holding. Its demining division already boasts amazing performance indicators. Its cost of demining a hectare is about UAH 24,000, excluding further soil reclamation and landscape restoration. However, it is sometimes necessary to spend twice as much on the elimination of the consequences of war as on demining—for instance, at sites of intense fighting.
Ukroboronservis, a state-owned enterprise mentioned before, is another demining ‘success story’. With its close ties to the defence ministry and the state emergency service, it is currently the leader among the commercial demining operators in Ukraine.
Foreign organisations are involved in direct demining efforts in Ukraine as well. Those are Halo Trust, the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD), the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), the Norwegian Refugee Council (NPA), and the Danish Church Aid in Ukraine (DCA). Together, they have 119 demining teams.
These operators are not interested in Ukrainian state funds and work directly with donor assistance. They have never published their records, so there is no official information on how much their work costs.
The more companies and institutions involved in demining Ukraine and the more sources of funding for their work, the faster and more cost-effective will be the return of agricultural land to normal operation.