The fighting in Kosovo ended more than 10 years ago, but unexploded land mines still pepper the country. “The international conflict over Kosovo is also notable for the fact that, although lasting only eleven weeks (24 March to 10 June 1999), the conflict left behind a severe problem of unexploded remnants of war which will take years to address,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a 2001 report.
The problem has not gotten much better with time. In 2006, the Wall Street Journal described the situation in one village in Kosovo:
The terrain here is more vertical than horizontal, and planting and grazing land is so precious that before organized de-mining began, some residents tried to clear fields and paths on their own, often with tragic results. Thirteen of the village’s 290 residents have been injured by land mines, some planted within yards of their houses.
In addition, between 200 and 300 of Dobruna’s cows have fallen prey to mines in the past five years, according to Jonuz Kola, who runs a private group that assists mine victims. Kola has tried to dissuade villagers from following stray animals into suspected minefields, with limited success — loss of a cow is a catastrophe for a poor family.
To root out these deadly traps, Google Maps and Google Earth Pro has teemed with the Halo Trust, a non-profit that works to remove land mines and other unexploded ordinances that often linger on long after a conflict ends.
To prevent further losses, Halo and Google consult with local villagers about the places they’ve lost cattle or noticed mines, Wired UK reports. They map these places using Google’s satellite images. Using these data, they identify problem areas that require careful on-the-ground searches. The collaboration makes mine-clearing “safer and more efficient,” Guy Willoughby, CEO of The Halo Trust, told Wired. ”We work in more than a dozen countries and regions across the globe so we rely on easy-to-use tools which can assist us in mapping minefields without putting our teams at risk,” he said.
Here, you can see how the tools work, and what kind of differences they’re making for people in Kosovo:
More from Smithsonian.com: