Land mines are a weapon of war, but most of their victims are civilians
usually children, who often get killed or maimed long after the
war is over.
Elizabeth Hunt is a graduate of the School of Community and Public Affairs
and a youth ambassador with UNICEF Canadas Youth Mine Action Ambassador
Program (YMAAP). She discussed the tragedy of land-mine use in a lecture
on January 26.
She quoted U.S. Gulf War commander General Norman H. Schwarzkopf, who
said that there is no proof that land mines ever made a significant difference
in an armed conflict. She also quoted grim official statistics: Every
22 minutes, someone is killed or maimed by a land mine.
It could be much higher, because land mine accidents are often reported
as traffic accidents, or theyre not even reported at all.
Years of mine-clearing operations have barely scratched the surface of
the millions of mines 110 million is the best estimate left
over from wars, civil and otherwise. An international treaty was signed
by 137 countries in 1998, but as recently as last month, Paul Hannon,
the executive director of Mines Action Canada in Ottawa, called for greater
long-term financial commitments from the treaty signatories, beyond the
$500 million pledged in 1998.
Part of that money is earmarked for victim-assistance programs, because
victims lose limbs and need care for the rest of their lives. On a recent
trip to Cambodia, a country particularly hard hit by mine accidents, Hunt
visited rehabilitation centres and saw victims without legs riding makeshift
skateboards. She says that prosthetic limbs are not always an option.
Sometimes a family has to choose between buying a prosthetic limb
or buying essentials like food. If a family cant afford a prosthetic
leg, then a child cant go to school and acquire skills outside of
the farm. But they cant work on the farm either in that condition.
So its a catch-22.
The rest of the money pledged for the treaty is used for mine clearing,
a painstaking and dangerous process. Tens of millions of mines will have
to be cleared by hand.
Mine clearing is one of the five most dangerous jobs in the world.
It is expensive, because it has to be done manually, so it involves a
lot of man hours. But thats still not a very high cost when you
compare it to military budgets. It all depends on where a country places
Heavily populated land is the most pressing concern. Egypt has one of
the highest concentrations of land mines they were left over from
World War II but most are in unpopulated stretches of desert. In
other areas, like Mozambique, Bosnia and Cambodia, land mines are a serious
humanitarian concern, especially for migrants and refugees, who are often
or constantly on the move through potentially mined territory.
One of the problems in Cambodia is that there is a wet and a dry
season. During the dry season, a family can arrive in an area and walk
around without any problems because the ground is hard. But during the
wet season, the ground becomes soft, and suddenly that same safe ground
they settled on six months ago is now dangerous.
Unfortunately, until they are dug up or stepped on, a mine can sit and
wait virtually forever for its victim.
One proposed solution, first attempted during the Persian Gulf War, was
to create smart land mines, with a battery designed to run
out in a fixed period of time. But the experiment failed during that war,
because the hot sun of the Middle Eastern desert continually recharges
You also never know how long a war will last. What happens if the
mine is timed for three years, and the war only lasts six months?