The global landmine problem came to the attention of researchers in the mid 1990's and by 1997 several advanced and expensive sensor research programs had started. Yet, by the end of 2003, there is little sign of a major advance in the technology available to humanitarian demining programs. Given the motivation and dedication of researchers, public goodwill to support such programs, and substantial research resources devoted to the problem, it is worth asking why these programs do not seem to have had an impact on demining costs or casualty rates. Perhaps there are factors that have been overlooked. This paper reviews several research programs to gain a deeper understanding of the problem. A possible explanation is that researchers have accepted mistaken ideas on the nature of the landmine problems that need to be solved. The paper provides several examples where the realities of minefield conditions are quite different to what researchers have been led to believe. Another explanation may lie in the political and economic realities that drive
the worldwide effort to eliminate landmines. Most of the resources devoted to landmine clearance programs come from humanitarian aid budgets: landmine affected countries often contribute only a small proportion because they have different priorities based on realistic risk-based assessment of needs and political views of local people. Some aid projects have been driven by the need to find a market for demining technologies rather than by user needs. Finally, there is a common misperception that costs in less developed countries are intrinsically low, reflecting low rates paid for almost all classes of skilled labour. When actual productivity is taken into account, real costs can be higher than industrialized countries. The costs of implementing technological solutions (even using simple technologies) are often significantly under-estimated. Some political decisions may have discouraged thorough investigation of cost-effective alternatives to landmine clearance.