“Antipersonnel mines are one of the most harmful and indiscriminate instruments of war, since  they are aimed not only at combatants but civilians, posing a lasting  threat to all the human beings. […] Thousands of children, women and old people, who have nothing whatever to do with the conflict raging around them, have fallen victim to these deadly mechanisms”, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, ex-general director of the UNESCO[1].

The antipersonnel landmines (APM) are explosive artifacts designed to wound, mutilate or kill anyone who approaches and activates the detonation mechanism, regardless of their status: soldiers, civilians or demining professionals. They are buried just below the surface of of the ground and may be activated by direct pressure from above (e. g., by the weight of troops, vehicles), by the radio signal,  by the passage of time or by remote control. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimates that nearly 71% of the victims are civilians, and 32% of them are children. Besides the direct foot and leg injuries, the antipersonnel mine explosion can cause blindness, burns, secondary infections  usually leading to amputation and death of massive blood loss and other complications.

They are an effective and a cheap weapon, which makes them extremely popular among all the active groups in a conflict.  According to the UN, the production costs  of the APMs are really low, varying between 3 to 30 dollars. They can be fast and easily placed from a range of locations, even from the air. Once pre-activated and buried, they are difficult to track and to de-activate. For the most part, their exact location is not known; and over the years their identification has become even more difficult, since later models are sometimes made of plastic and lack meta cases to prevent magnetic detection. Moreover, throughout time these can change location due to earth movements by natural causes, such as rain. All of which makes their dismantling extremely difficult, dangerous and expensive. The removal of each unit bares an estimate cost of 300 to 1,000 dollars, involving a high risk for the professional who assumes this duty.

Today, around 110 million antipersonnel mines are spread out in the world, and each year there are 2 million more implanted. Most of the countries affected by AMPs are developing  countries, which remain in conflict or post-conflict recovery process. Therefore, the harmful effects on their development are even more so dreadful. Nowadays we can find AMPs in 68 countries, of all continents Africa being the most severely affected by landmines, with 22 countries facing the problem, but their presence is also detected in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia and Iraq, among many others. Each year there are more countries on the list, as did Libya and Mali most recently.

The cost of removing the currently active 110 million mines would amount to around 50 billion dollars. But failing to do so can be far more costly, as they continue to pose a serious and constant threat to a large number of world’s population.

Direct impact of the APM

The APMs cause direct, damaging consequences to the human security – by killing, mutilating and wounding the victims. The first implication is the required immediate treatment needed by the victims who have suffered from a mine explosion, by providing access to hospital treatments, medical expertise and other needs, like prosthesis.

Most of the AMPs victims suffer from post-traumatic emotional and mental disorders (i.e. post-traumatic stress, extreme anxiety, etc.). Difficulties persist once when they want to find a job and keep on with their normal lives, given that there are a lot of barriers to their free movement and social integration. Changes in infrastructure, monetary help, subsidies and public raising awareness campaigns among the population are needed in the communities with a significant number of affected individuals. Education campaigns are essential, especially among children, to teach them to recognize and stay away from the mines, since some of them are disguised under rather appealing designs (like teddy bears or stars).

This often implies a high investment and an unbearable cost for the families and communities with APMs victims. To address the burden means to redirect the resources that families and societies alike have assigned for other purposes – food, education, health, housing, etc. A lot of families go bankrupt or become highly indebted to be able to pay for the treatments, while countries grow more and more dependent on humanitarian aid and external assistance.

Holding back development in the medium and long term

These artifacts, or “weapons of mass destruction in slow motion”, also possess a long-term indirect effect that spreads far beyond the zones with APMs presence and reaches social, economic and environmental levels.

The mines can be found outside cities, blocking roads, paths, fields, forests, deserts, around houses and schools, making the adaption and restoration of basic infrastructure for the development of communities extremely hard. Fertile land that has been mined becomes a mortal trap[2]. Refugees and displaced people cannot go back to their homes. They are not only banned from cultivating the land and taking the cattle to pasture, but rather often also denied access to drinkable water wells, to humanitarian aid, or to the necessary resources for reconstruction. It suggests the impossibility of expanding infrastructures to ensure proper living conditions, leaving a severe negative effect on all personal levels as well. And this can go on for decades.

This year’s publication of the International Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor states that “citizens often know they are walking in mined areas, but have no possibility to farm other land, or take another route to school. When land cannot be cultivated, when medical systems are drained by the cost of attending to landmine/ERW[3] casualties, and when countries must spend money clearing mines rather than paying for education, it is clear that these weapons not only cause appalling human suffering, they are also a lethal barrier to development and post-conflict reconstruction.” Antipersonnel mines build real prisons where you either die of hunger or of an explosion.

As a result, the populations risk their lives returning or deciding to rebuild their lives in the cities or regions of lower risk, spreading the problem and overburdening the community system far beyond the mined areas. In the majority of cases, displaced groups have none or few opportunities to lead[VS1]  a better life. The public institutions usually feel overwhelmed or lack the authority to develop appropriate policies, which contributes to the marginalization of these groups inside their own society and has a negative impact on the development of the nations as a whole.

International action

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, or the Ottawa Treaty, 1997, serves as the legal basis to fight the use of these weapons on a governmental level. Some 166 countries have already signed it, but it is striking that neither China, India, Israel, Russia nor the USA, and 31 more countries, have adhered. This is mainly due to the fact that some of them are the same countries that produce or maintain stocks of APMs[4]. Other initiatives advocating APMs prohibition are the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (UN, 1980) or the Geneva Call from 1998. This last one is directed to the non-governmental actors, such as guerrillas or liberation armies, given that the Ottawa Treaty makes no reference to these.

Nevertheless, international action faces the problem of lacking information regarding the production and trade of APMs. The efforts to remove and destroy the landmine stocks do not result as entirely useful if producing countries refuse to collaborate, citing their legitimacy to use them. There is also the illicit production and distribution of APMs, which represents an important percentage of worldwide arms trafficking. Estimates show that nearly 90% of all mines used are not produced where they are buried, existing very few registers of their true origin. The efforts for their prohibition will continue to be a chase with the ghost enemy, unless there is a more compromised political will to remove this painful obstacle to our global development.

This is  a non-for-profit explanation.

[1] Introduction to the book “Vidas Minadas”, by Gervasio Sánchez (Ed. Blume, 1997)

[2] There are studies showing that, without the mines, agricultural production could raise a 200% in Afghanistan and a 135% in Cambodia

[3] Explosive Remnants of War

[4] The USA officially used to say that mined areas help maintain peace in bordering countries, like the Koreas.

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