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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 14

Millions of Suffering People ask: When will the Colossal Human Tragedy caused by Landmines End?

Saturday 22 March 2008, by Bharat Dogra


Till last count the world had nearly 473,000 victims of landmine explosions—wounded in very painful ways and frequently maimed and/or disabled, sometimes suffering from life-long disability. Thousands of people are being added to this number every year as more injuries and deaths from landmine explosions are reported from various parts of the world. For each such victim there are several family members, dependants, close friends and relatives who too share the sufferings of serious injury and long-term disability. Thus millions of people are affected by this particularly dangerous and cruel weapon called landmines, including anti-personnel mines.

When a landmine explodes it can not only blow off a limb but in addition it can also propel shrapnel and dirt into wounds, infecting these badly and creating a need for several surgeries. These landmines often remain in place long after a war or conflict is over, continuing to claim innocent victims for several years. Neighbouring communities live in constant dread of these landmines, and their access to farms, pastures and other places of livelihood is hindered by the presence of these dangerous, hidden weapons.

The delay in removing landmines after war is partly explained by the fact that while producing one anti-personnel mine costs as little as $ 1, the cost of removing a mine can be many times higher going up in extreme situations to $ 1000.

Keeping in view the high humanitarian costs of landmines, an international agreement called the Ottawa Treaty was negotiated in 1997. This agreements bans the development, production, stockpiling, transfer and use of anti-personnel mines. About 155 nations have accepted this Treaty, while about 40 countries with a stockpile of 160 million anti-personnel mines remain outside this Treaty.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) brings together over 14,000 groups in about 90 countries. The ICBL was awarded the Nobal Peace Prize in 1997.

In the year 2006 a total of 5751 casualties from landmines and related devices/weapons were recorded in 68 countries, including 1367 people killed and 4296 injured (88 unknown). The total number of casualties is likely to be higher. However, overall a declining trend has been noticed, thanks largely to the anti-landmine campaigns. The 2006 casualty is less than half the 11,700 new casualties reported in year 2002.

SINCE the origin of modern de-mining at the end of the 1980s, it has been estimated that over 1000 sq km of mined land have been cleared by de-mining work. In addition to the actually mined areas some other area was suspected to be mined and had to be subjected to surveillance to clear it for civilian use and mobility. It has been estimated that in addition to the de-mined area (1000 sq km) ten times as much area has been released through reduction and cancellation techniques.

Although such progress is welcome, much remains to be done before significant protection from the cruelty of landmines can be announced. Several countries known to be the world’s biggest military powers—like the USA, Russia, China, India and Pakistan—have not yet signed the Ottawa Treaty. In high-tension areas like the Middle East, substantial areas are still not covered by this Treaty. Much more remains to be done to speed up de-mining work, and to provide assistance to victims of landmines.

Peace agreements may be signed, and hostilities may cease, but landmines and explosive remnants of war are an enduring legacy of conflict.

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