CARMEL, California — Landmines are the leftovers of war, marking a conflict of the past that continues to haunt populations in the present. The remnants of a long gone violence have the ability to kill and injure, while simultaneously keeping communities in fear and in poverty and limiting development.
Contrary to popular belief, there are still many detrimental effects of landmines. “People tend to think of landmines as a part of war and post-conflict that was dealt with a long time ago, but they don’t think of how it holds people back from development,” says Sara Rose-Carswell, who works with HALO Trust, a group that removes landmines from countries like Somaliland, Laos and Cambodia. In order to move past conflict and towards development, landmine removal needs to move up on the international agenda.
Worldwide, 68 countries still remain in danger from landmines; 22 of these nations are on the African continent, but also include Iraq, Afghanistan, Mozambique and Bosnia-Herzegovia among others. Across these nations, there are an estimated 110 million landmines still buried, with more being added at present. Cambodia alone has anywhere from two million to 10 million landmines as of 2008. It was not until 1997 that countries signed the Ottawa Treaty to ban landmines and destroy the stockpiles.
Landmines are instruments of war that do not discriminate between combatants and civilians and remain in the environment for decades. Designed to be buried beneath the surface and detonate with pressure from above, landmines are usually undetectable and can kill without any warning.
Between 1996 and 2008, 4,320 people were injured by landmines and other “explosive remnants of war” and numbers have not decreased significantly since. In 2011 alone, there were more than 4,000 injuries or deaths as a result of landmine explosions. According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, 71 percent of these victims are civilians and 32 percent are children. Across the world, children are often put at the greatest risk by preforming tasks like fetching water or planting seeds, and are most likely to be killed rather than severely injured. To make matters worse, a landmine injury or threat can keep kids from medical care or education.
In addition to keeping populations in fear of fatal injury, communities also face the dangers of poverty. Part of the problem is that the poor are often pushed to the areas where the risk is greatest. “It is really the poorest people in these mine-affected countries who are left to live on land still contaminated with the mines. In general, in post-conflict situations, cities are cleared of explosive remnants of war first and then the rural areas,” says Rose-Carswell.
But this is only one concern. The physical presence of landmines keeps populations from being able to fully utilize their land and resources.
This keeps much of the community in conditions of poverty and food insecurity. Many of the injuries occur when people are looking for water or harvesting their crops, meaning that communities are restricted to known mine-free lands for their agriculture. As a result, much of the farmable land goes unused, keeping profits and production low, especially in times of drought. Research shows that landmine presence in Angola limits food production by 25 percent, and the same can be assumed of other affected nations. Without safe land to grow crops, farmers are left with less room for agriculture and less produce to sell or consume.
Unfortunately, with crippling poverty, people are forced into dangerous mined areas to survive. “They are often aware of the risks of landmines, but they have little choice: they need to feed themselves. This is when the accidents happen,” Rose-Carswell told The Borgen Project.
“I have to feed my family, and that’s the most important thing. We can guess about landmines when we build farms, but we won’t always be certain,” says Leang Sopheap, a farmer in Cambodia’s Battambang Province.
Additionally, injury from landmines keeps individuals from being able to work, further perpetuating poverty in landmine-affected regions. Those who are hit face expensive medical treatment and the disabled often struggle to find a job. The necessary long-term recovery period can keep victims from finding work for months, forcing them to live off of charity and slip into poverty. Moreover, children who lose parents are left to fend for themselves, keeping them in the cycle of poverty without education.
In mine-affected areas, poverty remains rampant years after the conflict because landmines limit development. Mine fields make it impossible to build roads, hospitals, schools or cities, therefore preventing communities from improving infrastructure and moving forward. “Mines and other remnants of war effectively orphan entire regions from development, while the remaining parts of a country may be moving forward. These areas are often forgotten about,” says Rose-Carswell.
It seems like a simple solution to the problem. Take the landmines out and development can continue. But there are certain barriers that make this a difficult task. One of the biggest limitations is the cost. The communities that are plagued with landmines often cannot afford to remove them, and thus rely on outside assistance from groups like the U.N. Development Program. Landmines cost $3 to $30 to produce, but a heavy $300 to $1,000 to remove. It will cost an estimated $33 million to $50 million and 1,100 years to clear all the remaining landmines in the world. While an effective remedy, landmine removal is certainly not a cheap one.
Still, progress is being made. There are less and less landmines and resulting casualties in some of the most heavily affected places in the last twenty years. Helen Clark of the UNDP commends mine removal efforts, stating, “Overall, the progress over the last two decades of mine action in Cambodia has been impressive- with a reduction in the number of victims from 4,320 in 1996 to 286 in 2010. This invaluable experience gained here is now being shared with other countries.”
In addition, the land gleaned of mines is most often used for agriculture and development projects that pull affected groups from poverty. Rose-Carswell says that HALO Trust sees huge improvements in food security when land is cleared. “Over 80 percent of the land cleared goes almost immediately into agricultural production, feeding needy communities,” Rose-Carswell told The Borgen Project.
Overall, progress in landmine removal means development and poverty reduction. “By strengthening the mine clearance process and making productive land available to the rural poor, UN Development Program’s mine clearance activities directly contribute to poverty reduction in Cambodia,” says Steve Munroe of the UNDP about the link between lasting landmine presence and poverty. The same results can be seen elsewhere.
For now, landmines must become a global priority. “I would like to see landmines and other contamination from war and conflict included in the international development policy conversations. Right now, clearing explosive remnants of war is not often mentioned n broad development discussions, even where it should clearly form part of a comprehensive development strategy in a mine-affected country,” concludes Rose-Carswell. Making landmines a top concern will increase efforts for removal and development, aiding the affected communities in building a better future.
In short, landmines keep populations in poverty without the chance for development, but their removal can be instrumental in helping communities move forward, past conflict and into recovery and wealth.
– Caitlin Thompson
Sources: Foreign Affairs, IRIN ASIA News, UN Development Programme, Gov. UK, WHO Bulletin, United Explanations, UN Cyber School Bus, Cambria Press, Journal of Mine Action, Daily Free Press, UNICEF, The HALO Trust
Photo: Landmines in Africa