The burden of landmines and explosive remnants of war rests with the civilian population
It is estimated that since 1975, over one million persons, mostly civilians, were killed or injured by landmines. These vicious, small explosive containers are designed to cause serious injury to a person through an explosive blast or fragmentation. What makes anti-personnel mines so abhorrent is the fact that they are designed to maim and not to kill. Anti-personnel mines cannot distinguish between the footfall of a soldier and that of a child. Unlike bullets and artillery shells, mines are not aimed or fired, instead they lie dormant until a person or animal triggers their detonating mechanism. Stepping on a landmine can have a shattering effect on an individual but also causes a medical and social burden on a society. Besides this tragedy to individuals and societies, mines are also an obstacle to the development of a country.
Explosive remnants of war include cluster bombs and other sub-munitions. These weapons have been the subject of specific concern and media attention in recent years, due to the high number of sub-munitions which fail to explode and the devastating impact on the civilian population. While the use of sub-munitions is still lawful, when they fail to explode and become unexploded ordnance they are then as indiscriminate in their timing and choice of victim as the outlawed anti-personnel landmines.
Landmines and explosive remnants of war therefore create long-term damage to rural and low income farming communities as the amount of arable land is reduced. Therefore, the presence of landmines on agricultural land can cause malnutrition or even famines, leading to an increased need for food aid. Many individuals living in contaminated areas are forced to choose between staying and facing a deadly threat every day or abandoning their land and livelihood. This gives the impression that only farmers are affected by landmines.
Certain groups and individuals are particularly vulnerable to landmines. This is not necessarily a result of risky behaviour, but a consequence of the victim’s occupation, age, body mass or sex. For instance, a woman who gathers firewood every day and walks long distances runs more risk than someone that never leaves the village boundaries. A young child has a higher chance of dying as a result of mine injuries, as mine wounds will be nearer to vital organs because of the smaller body mass.
Explosive remnants of war also have a considerable impact on the work of aid operations as they make relief and development activities dangerous. This affects functions as diverse as emergency aid shipments, repatriation of refugees or displaced people and sustainable development. Commercial companies may also delay and divert their investments in the reconstruction of war-torn countries out of fear from accidents.
In many cases, post-conflict recovery can only start once explosive remnants of war and landmines have been located and removed.
The definition of Mine Action
According to the current UN definition, as stated in the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS), "Mine Action" refers to:
"Activities which aim to reduce the social, economic and environmental impact of mines and EWR. Mine Action is not just about demining, but also about people and societies and how they are affected by landmine contamination. The objective of mine action is to reduce the risk from landmines to a level where people can live safely, in which economic, social and health development can occur free from the constraints imposed by landmine contamination and in which the victims’ needs can be addressed".
Mine Action comprises five complementary groups of activities:
Humanitarian demining versus military mine clearance
Humanitarian mine clearance, a core component of mine action, covers the range of activities which lead to the removal of mines and unexploded ordnance hazards. Humanitarian mine clearance should be distinguished from military demining, as the objective of mine clearance is to clear all of the mines and other explosive remnants of war from a given area in order to return safe land to the civilian population. For soldiers in battle, on the other hand, speed is essential and they must accept greater risks. Therefore, military demining often consists only of breaching a clear path through a minefield and may not destroy every single mine in the path of armed forces. Such a process is also not concerned with the safe return of land to the civilian population.