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A new treaty banning antipersonnel landmines will be signed in Canada in December, but millions of people will continue to be plagued be a lethal form of pollution which is a daily threat to their lives, limbs, and livehoods.
|Over the past 55 years, mines have caused more death and
injury than nuclear and chemical weapons combined.
The world is facing an epidemic with over 119 million active mines scattered in 71 countries and just as many are stockpiled waiting to be planted.
The good news is that 100,000 landmines are removed each year. The bad news: another two million are planted annually.
Every month 800 people are killed and 1,200 are injured by mines.
Every 20 minutes a landmine will either injure or claim the life of one person.
In Cambodia, one of the countries worst affected by mines, there is one amputee per 384 inhabitants.
The cost of a prosthesis is about $125 each and a lifetime supply of artificial limbs amounts to $3,125.
The past 20 years has seen a dramatic increase in the use of mines as a weapon to terrorize civilians.
In parts of Afghanistan, the daily activity of 87% of households are reported to be affected by landmines. Without landmines, agricultural production could be increased between 88% and 200% in different parts Afghanistan and 135% in Cambodia.
The world celebrated a victory for humanity in September when a new treaty of international humanitarian law banning antipersonnel landmines was agreed in Oslo. It was something that civilians living with the threat of landmines had only dreamed of and aid workers had long campaigned for. But the landmine problem has not disappeared now that a treaty has been agreed. Landmines are still in the ground and still pose a threat. For millions of the poorest people in the world, it will still not be safe to collect firewood or tend to crops in the field and draw water from the well.
More than 15 countries worldwide are in crisis because of landmine infestation in their territory. The most severely affected areas are Afghanistan, Iraq, and Cambodia with 10 million mines each; Angola with 15 million mines; Bosnia with between three to six million mines and Croatia with three million landmines. Over the past 55 years, mines have caused more death and injury than nuclear and chemical weapons combined. They are a long-living form of pollution that pose a threat to whole generations of people and undermine the stability and future prosperity of countries.
The world is facing an epidemic with over 119 million active mines scattered in 71 countries and just as many are stockpiled waiting to be planted. There is one landmine for every 16 children in the world and one for every 48 inhabitants of the planet. The good news is that 100,000 landmines are removed each year. The bad news: another two million are planted annually. Experts believe that it would take US$33 billion and more than 1,100 years to clear the world of mines and then only if not a single new mine was laid during the period.
About a quarter of a million people are already landmine disabled in the world. The annual death and injury toll for landmines is 24,000 people. Every month 800 people are killed and 1,200 are injured by mines. Every 20 minutes a landmine will either injure or claim the life of one person.
How frightened would you feel if you lived near hundreds of hidden terrorists who were ready at all times to launch a random ambush on anyone who disturbed them? You didn't know where they were. All you knew was that they were killers who never slept, who lived forever and did not have a conscience. They did not care if their prey was a child, an old man or the breadwinner of a family. This is the nightmare that people are living with every day. They won't wake up from this bad dream. If they are involved in a landmine blast, they are lucky to survive with horrific injuries. All too often, they die painful deaths.
By the time you read this article, at least one family could be mourning the loss of a loved one. That family probably lives in Africa which is the world's most mined continent with one third of its countries contaminated by mines. If that family has not been bereaved, a relative, possibly a child, will be in an isolated field with one or more limbs severed from is body, losing blood rapidly, and desperately crying out for help. He may have to wait many hours to be heard and then he will set off on the long and painful journey to find a hospital. For more than one in 10 victims of landmine accidents, that journey could take days. Once there, he will have many operations and transfusions. One third of victims require amputation of one or more limbs. Recovery will take months and he will leave hospital hobbling on crutches unless he can afford a prosthesis. It is, in fact, too painful to think of the horror that child will endure over his lifetime.
Landmines are terrorists who do not distinguish between a civilian or a soldier. Most victims are civilians who fall prey to this evil weapon after the war has ceased. The United Nations estimates that you are 10 times more likely to be injured by landmines after a war has ended.
Most victims are civilians who are going about their daily chores when they are injured or killed. Information from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) database of victims shows that two thirds of victims are men between 15 to 50 years of age and nearly 30% are women and children. A 1992 survey conducted at an ICRC hospital in Pakistan revealed that one in five victims were working in fields or collecting water when they were involved in a mine blast.
Landmines cause unspeakable suffering. A mine blast causes extensive injuries and psychological trauma. Treatment is needed urgently, surgery is difficult, and amputation is often inevitable. Many victims never make it to a hospital, and they are not always accounted for in the statistics. An ICRC doctor who has studied the mine problem estimates that half of mine victims die within minutes of the blast. Approximately one person dies in the field for every one who makes it to hospital. According to some sources, 85% of child victims die before they reach hospital.
Nearly one third of mine victims lose at least one limb after a landmine blast. In the United States, there is one amputee per 22,000 inhabitants. In Cambodia, one of the countries worst affected by mines, there is one amputee per 384 inhabitants. The limbs of about 300 Cambodiansmostly civiliansare blown off by landmines every month.
Mines strike the poorest and those who are least able to cope. For most amputees, the cost of artificial limbs is prohibitive. A child's artificial limb should be replaced every six months and that of an adult once every three to five years. A child injured at the age of 10with a life expectancy of another 40 to 50 yearswill need 25 prostheses during his or her lifetime. The cost of a prosthesis is about $125 each and a lifetime supply of artificial limbs amounts to $3,125. In countries where the average per capita income is between $10 and $15 a month, crutches are all amputees can afford.
The past 20 years has seen a dramatic increase in the use of mines as a weapon to terrorize civilians. They are used to deny access to farmlands, irrigation channels, power plants, and roads. They cause famine and force people to flee their homes. In former Yugoslavia, mines have been used against purely civilian targets. Villages, roads, power plants, bridges, and dams around UN safe areas have been mined. The use of mines to terrorize civilians is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law which bans the use of such methods.
Most countries affected by landmines are poor with few resources available to cope with the consequences of this scourge. Landmines set off a long chain of direct and indirect effects over decades that often threaten stability and impede post-conflict recovery. The cost goes beyond the initial tragic toll in human suffering as society pays over and over again.
The widespread use of landmines undermines a country's economy. Social infrastructures become overburdened and often collapse. Mines make the reconstruction of rail and road networks, power lines, and waterways nearly impossible. The exorbitant cost of mine clearing operations siphons off already scarce funds. Landmines kill indirectly through preventing fertile land from being cultivated and contribute to an increase in hunger and poverty. Agricultural cultivation and animal grazing are seriously impeded by even the fear of landmines. Market systems are seriously affected as farmers and others are unable to move along mined roads and footpaths to bring their product to market. Such disruption has a direct impact on employment, rising prices for goods, food security, and the general undermining of people's capacity to meet their basic needs and return to normal life after war. In parts of Afghanistan, the daily activity of 87% of households are reported to be affected by landmines. Without landmines, agricultural production could be increased by between 88% and 200% in different parts of Afghanistan and 135% in Cambodia.
The Red Cross Movement, the largest humanitarian organization in the world, has been campaigning for a ban on antipersonnel landmines since 1995. Our campaign was prompted by pressure from our doctors and nurses in field hospitals worldwide who provided evidence of horrific injuries inflicted by landmines.
In the last 15 years, the ICRC has made 87,255 prostheses for 59,592 amputees in 21 countries. At the beginning of June 1995, the ICRC was conducting orthopaedic programmes in 14 countries. From 1985 to March 1995, Red Cross hospitals and surgical teams treated over 140,000 wounded peopleone quarter or 30,000 were victims of landmines.
While demining is essential to clear landmines from vitally needed land and infrastructure, the Red Cross focus is on rehabilitating landmine victims and assisting communities struggling to cope with the effects of these evil weapons. The Irish Red Cross launched a fund-raising campaign in December '97 to raise funds for the rehabilitation of landmine victims. Organized in conjunction with the International Committee of the Red Cross, funds raised will be used to support the Locichokio prosthesis workshop in Kenya. Between 1992 and 1996, this workshop made 2,000 prostheses for the men, women, and children who survived a landmine blast but lost a limb. In 1996 alone, 375 prostheses and 486 pairs of crutches were made for victims.
Caroline Lynch is the Public Relations Officer of the Irish Red Cross Society.
Donations can be made to the Irish Red Cross landmineappeal by: Post: Send a cheque or postal order to the Irish Red Cross Society, 16 Merrion Square, Dublin 2 Credit card: Telephone 01-67 65 135 Banks: Bank of Ireland, A/c No: 90-00-17 16305917; AIB, A/c No: 93-10-12 33627151. Please indicate landmine appeal.