Landmines kill or maim about 5,000 people annually, ban them now - opinion

From the conflicts in Ukraine and Azerbaijan and Armenia to the ones in Afghanistan, the Golan Heights and the Arab world, landmines remain a major threat to civilians.

 A MINE CLEARING operation takes place at the Gadot Observation Point, Golan Heights, in 2021.  (photo credit: MICHAEL GILADI/FLASH90)
A MINE CLEARING operation takes place at the Gadot Observation Point, Golan Heights, in 2021.
(photo credit: MICHAEL GILADI/FLASH90)

It was recently reported that the dam flooding in the Ukraine has significantly amplified the threat of landmines, as the authorities were forced to suspend landmine clearance on seven mine fields flooded by the collapse of the dam. According to various reports, landmines have been floating around the flooded areas in the Ukraine, thus significantly increasing the threat to civilians.

According to the UN, “Despite international efforts to prevent the use of landmines, they continue to be laid in conflict situations including in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in February 2022. UNICEF and the State Emergency Service of Ukraine recently warned that around 30 per cent of the country may potentially be mined as a result of the hostilities.” In the wake of this incident, it is once again emphasized why it is critical that landmines get banned worldwide.

From the conflicts in Ukraine and Azerbaijan and Armenia to the ones in Afghanistan, the Golan Heights and the Arab world, landmines remain a major threat to civilians. The UN reported, “The latest estimates show that in 2021, more than 5,500 people were killed or maimed by landmines, most of them were civilians, half of whom were children. More than two decades after the adoption of the Mine Ban Treaty, about sixty million people in nearly 70 countries and territories still live with the risk of landmines on a daily basis.”

According to an anonymous Israeli governmental source, “There are a lot of landmines in the Golan Heights. Ninety-nine percent of them are in a good maintenance status because the army is doing a lot of efforts to put up signs and fences. But because of the scale of the landscape, it is very hard mission to maintain and to do it 100 percent all of the year. So, landmines are really a big threat and danger to the civilization day-to-day life in the Golan Heights.”

“In the Golan Heights, we are not in a state of war for many decades and there is normalization, a civilian life here, economy, agriculture, and industrial plants, as well as towns and small cities,” the source noted. “The landmines are taking a high percentage of the land. So, there is close contact between civilians and the landmines. It is on a daily basis you see landmines here when you just wander around. Besides the danger and the real threat, you have the problem of unused land and territory for normal life.”

A controlled explosion of mines on the Golan Heights (credit: NATIONAL MINE ACTION AUTHORITY AND IEOD)
A controlled explosion of mines on the Golan Heights (credit: NATIONAL MINE ACTION AUTHORITY AND IEOD)

HE NOTED: “I am working now on clearing a landmine. All around the fence are cherry trees. You can just imagine that if the landmine was not there, there would be more cherry trees. I am working in another area where we are clearing an old Syrian landmine. It is on the border of one of the kibbutzim here. We are clearing it. But if it was not there, the kibbutz would have another neighborhood. That is the situation in the Golan Heights.”

Death by landmines rose after the truce in Yemen

According to a recent report from Save the Children, “One child was killed or injured on average every two days in Yemen last year by landmines or other explosive devices, the highest rate in five years. Child casualties from landmines or unexploded ordnance rose to 199 in 2022 – or 55% of overall children casualties – compared to 68 in 2018 which was 7% of overall child casualties, rising as families returned home during a six-month UN-brokered truce to contaminated land.”

The report added: “Children in Yemen are at risk of encountering landmines and explosive remnants of war while engaging in everyday activities such as playing, collecting firewood and water, and tending to livestock and they may lack the experience to identify or avoid them. According to Save the Children’s analysis, almost half of all landmine and explosive remnants of war incidents involving children were deadly.”

Speaking at “combating the mine threat, the path to sustainable development,” Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev stated “Armenia planted over 1.5 million mines throughout our land. Since the Second Karabakh War ended, 302 Azerbaijani civilians fell victim to mine explosions, 57 of whom died and 245 were severely injured. The mine threat that Azerbaijan faces is comparable to the horror of weapons of mass destruction.”

According to him, Armenia continued to plant mines across Azerbaijan’s territory after the conflict ended, using the Lachin road. 

“Over 2,700 anti-personnel mines produced in Armenia in 2021 were discovered in our territory.

“A mass mine contamination of our lands gravely jeopardizes the lives and well-being of our people.... It impedes realizing the rights of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons who have longed to return to their homes for so many years.” 

The landmine issue is one of the main impediments to the resolution of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Mines are a global problem

ABOUT 190 officials representing 51 countries participated in the “combating the mine threat, the path to sustainable development” conference that was hosted by the UN and Anama, the Azerbaijani anti-landmine agency, in Azerbaijan. The first day of the conference was held in Aghdam, where participants watched a game of landmine amputees playing soccer and attended lectures in the brand-new Aghdam Convention Center, which was built in an area that used to be covered with landmines.

Participants also saw Azerbaijan’s demining efforts in action, as they witnessed the destruction of a landmine. On the second day, conference attendees attended lectures on the landmine threat across the globe inside of the prestigious Flame Towers in Baku.

Emil Hasanov, the deputy chairman of the Public Council under Anama, stated at the conference: “As we saw, to plant landmines is easy, but to destroy the mines is costly.” He emphasized that the contaminated territory of Azerbaijan should be cleared so that civilians can return to their homes and their everyday routines without the threat of landmines and unexploded remnants of war.

He underlined that the awareness-raising activities should be enlarged to reduce the risk of injury from mines and unexploded ordnance through public-information campaigns, education and training, and liaison with communities. Therefore, the world community should support Azerbaijan in these activities.

He added that the cost for production of each landmine is about $3 versus the cost for safe removal of each landmine varies from $300-$1000. Taking into account that, Azerbaijan has more than 1 million landmines contamination, it would be really hard for Azerbaijan to have landmine clearance alone and it requires international support.

However, this issue is greater than Azerbaijan. In fact, Egypt has 23 million landmines, Angola has 9-15 million landmines, Iran has 16 million landmines, Afghanistan has about 10 million landmines, as do Iraq, China and Cambodia.

Mozambique has 2 million landmines, and Bosnia has between 2 and 3 million landmines. Croatia has 2 million landmines as well and Somalia has up to million in the North. Eritrea and Sudan also have one million landmines.

In fact, Egypt, Iran and Angola account for about 85% of the landmines worldwide. Globally, one deminer is killed and two are injured for every 5,000 landmines that are successfully removed. According to the UN, “the 110 million landmines currently buried worldwide will cost $33 billion for clearance alone.” It is pivotal for humanity that each and every one of these landmines be removed, so that children will be able to play safely and civilians will be able to work and conduct normal business without threatening their lives. Thus, it is critical that there be more international efforts to eradicate landmines across the globe.

The writer is the CEO of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy and an Israel-based journalist. She is also the author of Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.