Landmine CrisisLandmines are a destructive weapon of war that often times outlive the conflict they had been implemented for. Today, civilians around the world are inheriting the landmine crisis from both current wars and earlier conflicts. An estimated 110 million landmines are active in the ground right now, killing and maiming more than 5,000 people every year.

The Difficulties of Landmine Removal

Although landmines are an urgent global issue, removing them is painstakingly difficult for three main reasons:

  1. Time—the detection and demining of landmines take a good deal of time. In fact, it is estimated that if landmines continue to be removed at the current rate (with no new mines added), it would take approximately 1,100 years to completely rid the world of them.
  2. Cost—mines only cost between $3 and $30, making them effective tools for combat in both cost and casualty effectiveness. Removing them, however, can cost between $300 to $1,000. Removing all landmines would cost anywhere between $50 to $100 billion. Since most countries affected tend to be poorer, the cost of mine removal can be extremely detrimental.
  3. Risk—most minefields are unmarked. It is not unusual to find mines laid in agricultural fields, around irrigation systems and in forests that provide villages with firewood. (That is if they are not inside the villages themselves). Civilians and professionals alike are at risk of death or severe injuries; for every 5,000 mines successfully removed, one deminer is killed and two more are wounded.

Instead of becoming discouraged by how problematic the landmine crisis actually is, one Indian teen rose to the challenge of innovating smarter landmine removal.

The Inventor of the Mine-Detecting Air Drones

One day, now 15-year-old techie Harshwardhansinh Zala came across a YouTube video of military men who were detecting landmines in an active minefield. While soldiers explained the landmine crisis to their viewers, one landmine exploded. Consequently, the blast killed and injured many of the soldiers present. The video horrified Zala, who felt like he could be doing more to aid in the demining efforts. This spurred him and a few of his friends to begin a startup electronics company named Aerobotics7. Their primary task? To create a prototypical air drone to replace human deminers. Hypothetically, the drone could detect and mark buried landmines while being remotely controlled by an operator at a safe distance.

Zala explains how the drone would work: “Our drone will go on to the field, survey the whole ground, send the real-time signals to the army base station, and our drone will also drop a package to mark the location. The army can detonate the landmines with our wireless detonator, without any human risk.”

Zala plans on giving the finished product to his government to help them safely detect mines.

Although his drone may not decrease the cost of removing mines or speed up the process of demining, it would help spot and mark landmines across the globe, potentially saving the lives of those who might have accidentally stumbled upon an unmarked minefield otherwise. Warning civilians of the dangers around them is the most time-sensitive aspect of the landmine crisis, after all, and though removing all landmines may take centuries, Zala’s air drone could be helping people stay safe today.

Haley Hiday
Photo: Sumit Baruh for Forbes India

technopreneursIt’s no secret that technology has been the key to success for decades now. A truly original program or interface may as well be a golden ticket to superstardom, if Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates are any lesson. So it comes as no surprise that many development agencies are encouraging countries to invest in ‘technopreneurs’ – young people with a penchant for invention and a business plan to match.

Bill Gates has an annual income higher than that of many countries. If he were a country, he would be the sixty-fifth richest in the world. He has an estimated net worth of $77.8 billion and is widely considered to be the wealthiest individual in the world. All that from selling computers and software.

In 2011, President Barack Obama called for an “all hands on deck” approach to innovation, encouraging government officials, academics and philanthropists to “spark … creativity and imagination.”

This is an important priority of America’s domestically and abroad. Partnership for Growth, a bilateral effort to promote inclusive economic growth, has enabled USAID to place a new emphasis on innovation and education, most notably in the Philippines, which recently played host to the Global Entrepreneurship Symposium and Workshop, a summit designed to help young Filipino inventors hone their ideas, connect with possible investors and launch their businesses.

Aid professionals are hopeful that an emphasis on launching small tech startups will drive long-lasting growth in countries like the Philippines, which have an undersized middle class.

“Entrepreneurship is the fastest way to move wealth in society. Education gives people the tools to innovate and build businesses,” says Dado Banatao, a Filipino-American engineer and entrepreneur who now runs the Philippine Development Foundation and works with young inventors. “Entrepreneurship leads to the creation of jobs and redistribution of wealth, and puts the Philippines on the global economic map.”

In the United States, two-thirds of jobs are generated by small and medium-scale businesses. These small businesses are at the heart of a middle class, the sweet spot between struggling to survive and living to excess. Most developing countries lack a robust middle class. Instead of small and medium-scale businesses, developing countries like the Philippines have offices for mega-corporations like McDonalds, and nameless micro-enterprises like street food vendors or family-run convenience shops.

Even if a technopreneur does not strike it rich, she or he could still run her or his venture like a small or medium business. More businesses mean more jobs, which is an improvement for everyone. With this growing push for innovation and empowerment, it would not be a stretch to predict that the next generation of billionaires will be making their first millions as the founders of tech companies in developing countries.

– Marina Middleton

Sources: USAID, Brookings Institution, Universiti Kuala Lumpur
Photo: Flickr