What makes antipersonnel landmines so abhorrent is the indiscriminate destruction they cause. Landmines cannot be aimed. They lie dormant until a person or animal triggers their detonating mechanism. Antipersonnel landmines cannot distinguish between the footfall of a soldier and that of a child.
It is believed 60 to 70 million mines are in place around the world. Just a handful of mines—
or the mere suspicion that an area is mined—can make that land unusable for human activity.
Every region in the world is mine-affected. More than 75 countries are affected to some degree
by landmines and/or unexploded ordnance. Nobody knows how many mines are in the ground.
But the actual number is less important than their impact. More than 350 different types of
antipersonnel mines exist. Although millions of mines have been removed, landmines still injure
or kill about 15,000 to 20,000 people every year. An estimated 80 percent of landmine victims are civilians; one-third of these are children.
Landmines have a devastating effect, not only on the people they kill and injure but also on
everyone who lives in the area. Landmines are now a daily threat in Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia,Cambodia, Chechnya, Croatia, Iraq, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Somalia, and dozens of other countries. Mines recognize no cease-fire, and long after the fighting has stopped, they continue to maim or kill. Mines also render large tracts of agricultural land unusable, wreaking environmental and economic devastation. Refugees returning to their war-ravaged countries face this lifethreatening obstacle to rebuilding their lives.
Unfortunately, 13 countries continue to produce antipersonnel mines. Nine of the 13 mine
producers are in Asia (Burma, China, India, Nepal, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan,
Singapore, and Vietnam), one is in the Middle East (Iran), two are in the Americas (Cuba and United States), and one is in Europe (Russia). At the same time, some armed nonstate actors or rebel groups still produce homemade landmines such as improvised explosive devices.
There are two categories of landmines: antipersonnel (AP) and antitank or antivehicle (AT).
» Antipersonnel landmine: A mine that is designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity, or
contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure, or kill one or more persons.
» Antitank landmine: An AT mine is a device designed to detonate by more than 220 pounds of
pressure. AT mines cannot distinguish between a tank and tractor.
There are different types of AP mines, according to the type of injuries they inflict.
» Blast mines: usually hand-laid on or under the ground or scattered from the air. The explosive
force of the mine causes foot, leg, and groin injuries, and secondary infections usually result in
» Fragmentation mines: usually laid on or under the ground and often activated by tripwire or
other means. When detonated, the explosion projects hundreds of fragments at ballistic speed
resulting in fragmentation wounds. Some fragmentation mines contain a primary charge to lift
the mine above the ground (about 5 feet) before detonating, which can injure an adult's abdomen and genitals or take off a child's head.
Different groups of people have different viewpoints about the use of landmines.
The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), for example, argues that landmines do not obey the laws of war and, therefore, are an illegal weapon. The laws of war dictate that soldiers and their weapons discriminate between soldiers and civilians. Additionally, there is to be a balance between military need and consequences to the civilian population.
Most AP mines are designed to maim in order to overload the enemy's support system. In the countries where landmines have been used in great numbers, the impact is overwhelming. The psychological effect of landmines on the enemy is undeniable, but landmines also terrorize and demoralize civil society. Put simply, anything that landmines can do to an enemy's army, they can do to a civilian population. What they cannot do is discriminate between the soldier and the civilian. Neither can their impact be confined to the duration of the battle.
However, the continued use of landmines and the fact that 37 countries (including the United States) have not signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty makes it clear that not all groups and nations agree with the ICBL.
The issue of banning landmines has implications for people both now and in the future. Even if no more mines were ever laid, they will continue to maim and kill for years to come. Bold steps must be taken now to save future generations of innocent civilians. If sufficient funds were provided, de-miners from the ICBL say that mine clearance to restore daily life to near normal levels may be achieved in years, not decades.
Banning landmines is a geographic issue in nature because of the devastating effect, not only on people but also because of their effect on the environment.
In countries where live landmines remain widespread, teaching people how to recognize the different kinds of landmines, what to do if they find them, and first-aid techniques—such as how to stop massive bleeding—can save lives. This is achieved by Mine Awareness International teams visiting communities to convey these important messages using drama, pictures, puppets, song, and dance. Children are a particularly important group to target because they often mistake landmines as toys.
The task of clearing mines is much slower and more costly than the manufacture and laying of mines. Clearing one mine can cost from $330 to $930, compared with $3 to buy it. While paths can be cleared by expensive heavy machinery to allow an army to pass, making an area safe for the civilian population requires that every mine be removed.
Children and adults who are injured by landmines have physical, emotional, social, and economic needs. After the surgeons have done their best to repair horribly mangled bodies, the survivors need physiotherapy and retraining to cope with loss of eyesight, hearing, or mobility. Some need crutches or artificial limbs. The most appropriate prosthetic devices are made locally because they are cheaper, easier to modify or replace (every few years), and designed to match skin color. Although artificial limbs are a visible need, it is just as vital to help the person return to as normal a life as possible. Children need to be able to attend school, take part in games or sport, and help with chores. Adults need to earn their own income or help to support the family, but jobs such as farming or fetching water may be very difficult. Providing training in new skills, such as radio and television repair, helps support mine survivors as they adapt to a new life. Many landmine survivors say their greatest need is for acceptance by others in their family or community. Changing attitudes about disability is a key part of this process.
While the international ban on landmines is a major achievement, the task remains to ensure that more countries sign the treaty and that signatory governments honor their commitments. The public can also continue to campaign for appropriate funding of mine clearance and long-term assistance to landmine victims.
(Sources: Children Associated with Armed Groups, UNICEF, May 2006; Children in Conflict and >Emergencies, UNICEF; Too Young to Kill, Singer, Peter W., The Brookings Institute, January 2005; State of the World Children, UNICEF, 2005)