LANDMINES - THE FACTS
Murder and mutilation are the hallmarks of this indiscriminate weapon that can lie in wait for decades after a conflict has ended. In the heat of battle armies rarely keep track of minefields, let alone the numbers of mines they have deployed. As for mines in stockpiles - the usual reluctance of politicians and defence personnel prevents accurate disclosure. For these reasons landmine estimates are very rough. Figures relating to the wounded and the devastation caused in their lives are more reliable.1
THE BASICS 2
WHY THEY DON'T MAKE SENSE
WHERE THE MINES CAME FROM
In most arenas of conflict, the mines used are not indigenously produced. Click here to see a large map of the world that illustrates the sources for the landmines in a handful of countries where the problem is particularly severe.
THE WORST AFFECTED
Under normal circumstances amputations are very rare. In the US, which does not have a landmines problem, the rate is 1 per 22,000 people.
The leader in sheer number of mines in the ground is Egypt with 23 million (a mixture of anti-tank and antipersonnel), many left over from World War Two, but they haven't caused large-scale havoc because they are confined to border regions.
WHO THEY KILL
In some cases the overwhelming number of casualties have been civilians, this often coincides with a period of refugee return to heavily mined areas. In Namibia 88% of post-1980 casualties were civilians, in Mozambique (1994) 68%, and in Georgia (1994-95) 80%.
Children can be undercounted as it is estimated that 85% die before reaching a hospital. In one instance, when refugees returned to Hargeisa in northern Somalia in 1991, 75% of mine victims were children, whose natural playfulness and herding and wood-gathering occupations put them at greater risk.5
THE SOCIAL COST
Landmines are found along roads, in fields and forests, beside power pylons, near wells and river banks, in homes and public buildings. As a result they can cause economic paralysis by restricting movement in what are usually agriculture-based economies.
- Without landmines agricultural production could more than double in both Afghanistan and Cambodia.
- In Libya 27% of the total arable land is unusable - due to mines left behind from World War Two, over 50 years ago.
- In Somalia grazing land and water sources have been badly hit. The mining of roads made inflation shoot up.
- In one region of Angola in 1988 the ICRC estimated the cost of delivering one tonne of relief supplies by rail and truck would have been $89 by aircraft it was $2,200. Similarly in Sudan in 1995, overland aid had to be replaced by air shipments costing $2,000 per tonne.
THE MEDICAL COST
In war-torn countries medical services are ill-equipped and in disarray. Landmine injuries present a drain on available resources as they require complex surgery and more inputs. Surgical care and the fitting of an orthopaedic appliance cost at least $3,000 per amputee in 'developing' countries. For the 250,000 amputees estimated worldwide by the UN this means a bill of $750 million.
- In Cambodia 61% of mine victims went into debt to pay for their medical treatment. In Afghanistan the proportion was even higher, at 84%.
- A growing child's artificial limb should be replaced every six months; adults need a new one once every three to five years. Prostheses cost around $125: for a child of ten with a life expectancy of another 50 years the total cost is about $3,125.
- In most affected countries rehabilitation services are limited and care for psychological trauma is non-existent.
1 Landmines refers to both antipersonnel and antitank mines. In recent conflicts the former variety has predominated. Unless otherwise indicated, all figures are from the International Committee of the Red Cross document Anti-personnel Mines: An Overview, 1996. The ICRC bases all its figures on landmine numbers on the UN Demining Database.
2 ICRC pamphlet Landmines must be Stopped, 1997.
3 ICRC Position Paper Landmines: crucial decisions in 1997, 1997.
4 ICRC, Anti-personnel Landmines: Friend or Foe?, 1996.
5 Red Cross, Red Crescent, 1997, Issue 2
6 Shawn Roberts and Jody Williams, å, Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, Washington DC, 1995.
Copyright New Internationalist Magazine 1997
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