That’s the reality for millions of people in about 80 countries. With such large numbers of people affected by landmines in countries that may seem very far away, it’s sometimes easy for those of us in the USA to forget about the problem.
Landmines and explosive remnants of war continue to kill or injure thousands of people a year. According to UNICEF, the UN Children's Fund, children account for more than one-third of civilian casualties. Children are particularly prone to injury as they are naturally curious and often try to open or play with explosive items when they find them in and around their communities. Children are more likely than adults to die from their injuries.
The UN's Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said earlier this month, "...millions of people in nearly 80 countries still live in fear of landmines and explosive remnants of war. These devices continue to claim 15,000 new victims each year. They take an unacceptable toll on lives and limbs. They wreak havoc on people’s livelihoods. They block access to land, roads and basic services." The Secretary General urged greater support for the nearly half a million survivors of landmines and explosive remnants of war around the world to enable them to realize their rights and be productive members of society.
Without such support, survivors may face “a lifetime of poverty and discrimination, lacking adequate health care or rehabilitation services,” he said.
All over the world these left overs from wars past and present kill and maim indiscriminately.
Landmines have killed or injured more than 70,000 Afghans in the last two decades, and they continue to cause hundreds more casualties each year.
Angola is considered one of the most mined countries in Africa, as the result of 30 years of civil war. The residuals of war and ordnance still indiscriminately take lives and mutilate men, women, soldiers, civilians and innocent children. At present, more than 2 million people or 400,000 households are affected by various levels of mine risk. There have been 300 to 400 mine victims per year in recent years.
According to national level one survey results released in 2002, close to half of Cambodian villages are affected by mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), with a suspected contaminated area of 4,466 square kilometres. The overall number of people killed, injured or disabled tops 62,000, with an estimated 43,000 people injured or disabled. Mines and ERW are major obstacles to human security and national development in Cambodia.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) government signed and ratified the anti-personnel mine-ban treaty in 2002, but this has made little real difference on the ground and at least 892 people have been killed and 1,118 injured around the country by landmines and unexploded ordinance (UXO) since 2001.
Since the end of the 2006 conflict, unexploded ordnance (UXO), particularly cluster munitions, continues to maim and kill civilians in southern Lebanon, with an average of two civilian casualties per month. Unexploded ordnance and cluster munitions clearance combined have led to 27 civilian fatalities and 209 civilian injuries, as well as 14 mine clearance fatalities (including one UNIFIL peacekeeper) and 34 mine clearance injuries. “The presence, or even fear of, a single landmine lurking in the backyard or a tiny cluster bomb hovering in the village orchard, can hold an entire community hostage,” said UNIFIL Force Commander Major General Claudio Graziano. “We are acutely aware of the deleterious effects this can have on a society, both in real and psychological terms.”
Presently, 31 of Colombia’s 32 departments are reported to be affected by landmines and UXO, as is 62 percent of all the country’s municipalities. Antioquia, Bolívar, Caquetá, and Norte de Santander are the most affected departments. The most impacted communities in general are those in remote rural areas where access to and delivery of the most basic medical and rehabilitation services is limited. Between 1990 and 2006, 5,717 victims of landmines and UXO were registered
Unexploded ordnance (UXO) and landmines leftover from decades of conflict continue to threaten civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories. The current situation, augmented by inter-factional fighting and Hamas assuming full control over Gaza, has increased the risks of injury and death among civilians, especially children. In parallel, recurrent Israeli incursions have taken place. Between January and July 2007, 184 Palestinians (including 31 children) were killed due to the conflict and 1,126 (including 140 children) were injured.
The UN estimates that 19 of the Sudan's 25 states have been affected by landmines and or ERW, but the true extent and impact of Sudan's landmine problem remains unknown. The reported and registered number of landmine casualties over the past five years totals 4,025. There is, however, no systematic casualty data collection and verification.
Tajikistan has the largest landmine problem in Central Asia, with more than 25,000 square kilometres of land in need of mine clearance - an area more than half the size of Switzerland. Most of the mines were laid during the country’s five-year civil war, which ended in 1997. Mines were laid both by the opposition and government sides.
A 2006 study of Iraq categorized the country as one of the most mine-contaminated countries in the world, with more than 4,000 parts of the country impacted by land mines. “They inflict lifelong injuries, deny access to productive land and undermine freedom of movement, including for the delivery of humanitarian relief,” said the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, David Shearer. “We need to increase efforts to reduce the harm they cause, and treat their victims.”
Eritrea’s mine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) contamination is the result of the country’s long struggle for independence (1962-1991) and border war with Ethiopia (1998-2000). The recently completed Landmine Impact Survey (LIS) indicates that 481 out of Eritrea’s 4176 communities are affected. These include 914 suspected hazard areas covering an area of approximately 130 square kilometres and affecting 655,000 persons. The LIS identified over 5,000 mine and UXO victims, including 295 new victims, within 24 months of LIS interviews.
I could go on and on, but I suppose you get the drift.
Landmine Monitor estimated that more than 160 million antipersonnel mines are stockpiled by states not party to the Mine Ban Treaty. The vast majority of these stockpiles belong to just three states: China (estimated 110 million), Russia (26.5 million) and the United States (10.4 million). Other states with very large stockpiles include Pakistan (estimated 6 million) and India (estimated 4-5 million).
The UN's Secretary General this month again called on States that have not yet ratified all disarmament, humanitarian and human rights laws and protocols related to landmines and explosive remnants of war to do so, stressing that it is “only through the widest possible ratification and full compliance will the international community succeed in preventing new injuries and fatalities while ensuring that victims and their families fully realize their rights.”
Said Lora Lumpe, coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines,“We were appalled when the U.S. government refused to sign the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, and we are outraged that the administration is now refusing to participate in negotiations to prevent civilian casualties that result from cluster munitions.”
The following is from IRIN (UN).
DRC: Hidden killers on the loose
The full extent of the threat posed by landmines and other unexploded ordnance in the Democratic Republic of Congo is unknown but the deadly weapons are a daily concern for tens of thousands of displaced people in the east.
"Mines and UXOs [unexploded ordnance] are strewn all over the countryside," Francesca Fontanini, external relations officer for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in DRC, said. "They are among the most pernicious consequences of the armed conflict."
The mines and UXOs, according to the agency, could affect the return and reintegration of an estimated 800,000 people displaced by years of fighting in North Kivu.
They are also a danger to those who may return home to areas with unmapped minefields. Children are particularly vulnerable because some of the weapons look like toys.
"In Dongo, five children who had just [been] repatriated died after a grenade exploded as they were playing with it," Philippe Sondizi Dombale, head of Humanitas Ubangi, a local NGO in Molegbe, northern DRC, told IRIN in the capital Kinshasa.
"Another boy died in Gbadolite after a landmine he had been using for several days as a hammer - out of ignorance - blew up in his face."
More than 892 people have been killed and 1,118 injured by these deadly weapons since 2001, say activists.
The DRC government ratified the global anti-personnel mine ban treaty in 2002, but activists say very little has been done to implement it. And no comprehensive impact surveys have been conducted because of the volatile security situation across the country in addition to logistical difficulties.
"Up to now little has been done ... a choice has to be made [between] the mines continuing to cause casualties and the most urgent thing - to try to stop it," Harouna Ouedraogo, programme director of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre (UNMACC), said.
The government says work is ongoing to address the plight of victims. "Legislation regarding the rights of victims to assistance is being drawn up," interior minister Denis Kalume said during the International Mine Action Day celebrations on 4 April in Kinshasa.
"A focal point will be created for coordination and we will work closely with our international partners so that national competency in this area can be achieved," he added.
Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
De-mining is an expensive business
The government, he emphasised, was committed to fulfilling its obligations under the Ottawa (Mine Ban) treaty.
According to Mine Advisory Group (MAG) country director Marc Angibeaud, de-mining efforts through international NGOs such as MAG, Handicap International and DanChurchAid, have cleared the countryside of thousands of anti-personnel mines and UXO, especially in Equateur, Maniema, Katanga and South Kivu provinces.
Work has also been done by the commercial de-mining company, Mechem.
From June 2007 to January 2008, more than 28,000 sqkm of land was cleared; over 3,500 weapons, 5,000 UXO and 35,000 items of ammunition destroyed, and mine education sessions conducted for over 10,000 people. De-miners have also been trained.
"Clearance activities have not only prevented accidents from explosions but also freed land for agriculture and rendered safe many roads and a water source crucial to the villagers’ daily activities," MAG noted in a 31 January statement.
"The destruction of the ammunition also means it will not be available for trafficking - a significant problem in the Great Lakes region - thus contributing to regional peace-building."
Another NGO, Synergie pour la Lutte Anti Mines (SYLAM), is teaching internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees in North Kivu how to spot half-buried or fully exposed explosive devices and what to do.
SYLAM has recorded 111 deaths and 127 injuries caused by these weapons in North Kivu since 2003 - though none yet inside IDP camps. Together with the UNMACC and other NGOs, it has identified 51 polluted sites.
Ouedraogo, however, said the achievements so far were merely the tip of the iceberg. As long as much of the country remained inaccessible and the people remained poor and ignorant, the problem would prevail. There were reports, for example, of some people using the explosives for fishing.
According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), both rebel and government forces used anti-personnel mines during the DRC’s numerous conflicts. There have been no reports of use of anti-personnel mines by government forces, however, since the DRC signed the landmine treaty.
Since May 2006, an increasing number of small arms and ammunition, UXO and mines have been handed over to authorities. From 2003 to May 2006, some 2,244 mines were destroyed.
But the problem remains huge. Surveys by DanChurchAid covering 153,000 sqkm in Katanga, So uth Kivu and Maniema, for example, found 171 mined and 583 UXO-contaminated areas.
De-mining is an expensive business and in DRC, where infrastructure is lacking, it becomes even more difficult.
The UN Mission in Congo (MONUC) says work has been slowed down by several key challenges - survey and mapping sites, provision of adequate assistance to victims, awareness-raising and the creation of mine legislation. As a result, landmines and UXOs continue to hamper economic development, and maim and kill hundreds in the vast country every year.
"Millions in the DRC continue to live with the daily fear of being killed or disabled," Ross Mountain, Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in the DRC, said on 4 April. "Much has been done, but a lot of challenges remain."