April 16, 2012
One of the most brutal weapons of war is also one of the simplest: the landmine. Modern landmines initially appeared during the first World War, but they had already existed in various forms for centuries before that time. They are easy to set up, difficult and time consuming to detect and disarm, and inflict injuries on civilians and combatants alike, resulting in a medical and economic burden to the communities where they are used that extends well beyond a war’s end. Landmines continue to haunt nations once torn by conflict long after the wars have ended and begun to fade into memory.
The statistics on injuries from landmines are sobering.
- Around every 22 minutes 1 person somewhere in the world is killed or injured by a landmine.
- One hundred million uncleared landmines lie in the fields and alongside the roads and footpaths of one-third of the countries in the developing world. Claiming over 500 victims a week, landmines are weapons of mass destruction in slow motion.
- Half of all people die from a landmine injury, either immediately from the explosion – as is the case with most children – or from blood loss and exposure.
Fortunately, the annual death and injury toll from landmines has been dropping steadily, due in large part to the Mine Ban Treaty which was signed in Ottawa in 1997. Today, 157 countries have signed the treaty. There are still 39 countries, including the U.S., which have not signed the treaty. Though it has not used landmines since 1991, nor produced them since 1997, the U.S. still has a stockpile of 10 million landmines. The U.S. remains a holdout due to language in the treaty it finds objectionable. Still it is doing more than any other country to remove landmines and prevent their further spread. And the Obama administration has initiated a comprehensive review of its landmine policy.
There have been dramatic success stories. For example, Cambodia is a country with one of the highest total number of landmines. Over the last twenty years, it has de-mined a little over half (270 square miles) of contaminated land. With new technology and more funding, the nation should be free of landmines in another 10 years. One of the heroes of this effort is a soldier, Aki Ra, who, as a boy was forced to lay landmines for the Khmer Rouge. He has dedicated his life to removing these landmines and to date has de-mined over 50,000 devices.
Similar to the eradication of once prevalent diseases like Smallpox, the world may yet see the day when the last landmine has been removed and no more are being produced or laid.