April 4th marks International Mine Awareness Day and Assistance for Action, which recognizes the physical and psychological dangers of living in an area where mines remain a deadly risk.
“Peace without mine action is incomplete peace,” said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in a statement yesterday. “No one should have to live in fear of dying even after the fighting stops.”
64 nations are contaminated by anti-personnel mines today. According to Care.org, at least 110 million mines exist untouched, and at least 50 million sit stockpiled in various countries. The mine clearance process is not quick but progress has been made. The 2016 edition of Landmine Monitor estimates that in the past six years, 960 square kilometres of land and nearly 1.5 million landmines have been cleared.
It was also reported by the Landmine Monitor that landmine casualties rose from 3,695 in 2014 to 6,461 in 2015, a 75% increase in deaths. This was also was the highest recorded number of casualties since 2006, due to the severity of conflict in Syria, Yemen, Ukraine and Libya.
“Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are killing and injuring thousands of civilians annually,” says UN Secretary-General Guterres.
Care.org states that there are at least 600 types of anti-personnel mines in existence. This includes ‘explosive blast effect’ land mines which are brightly-colored (‘irresistible’ to children) and designed to rip off the lower half of the leg, and often cause death by infection if medical amputation is not effective. Larger anti-tank landmines continue to have a disastrous effect on smaller vehicles such as passenger vehicles and pickup trucks, and block entire roads, halting daily activity in affected villages.
The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) was set up in 1997 with the goal of ensuring an “effective, proactive and coordinated response” to the threat of mines left over after the war. Since the group’s conception, the focus has expanded to include other hazards, such as unexploded missiles, grenades and cluster bombs, and the controlled demolition of explosives. UNMAS also provides solutions for unsafe and unsecured weapons and ammunition. The organization works in 18 countries, each with mine coordination centers which are responsible for public information and community liaison.
The process of mine clearing or ‘demining’ involves the extensive surveying and mapping of terrain to pinpoint the locations of mines, as well as the physical extraction of the mine from the ground. ‘Demining’ is understood in both humanitarian and military senses. Humanitarian organizations such as UNMAS are dedicated solely to defusing explosives to ensure safety and security within a community after the war. Military minesweepers clear mines to strategize safer pathways for troops or military vehicles and the United Nations is not involved in the military process as it is not a humanitarian activity.
Secretary-General Guterres additionally encouraged member states to keep the issues of landmines at the top of the agenda when negotiating peace, in the interest of preventing further harm in conflicts.
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