UN: Landmine Clearance Should Put Human Impact First

NEW YORK, New York, May 10, 2001 (ENS) - Landmines, the ultimate environmental horror. Lethal explosive devices lying quietly on a rock, a stretch of sand, under a bush, sown by military personnel since gone to other wars leaving the local people to discover the mines by detonation.

Removing them is expensive and funds are scarce, so it is those landmine removal projects based on humanitarian concerns that should be funded first, says a new study commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and issued Tuesday.

"Until now, demining programmes have been mostly concerned with numbers," the UN agency said, "how many mines planted, and how many square meters cleared."

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Landmine victim in Chechnya (Photo courtesy Amina)
Yet it is the impact of landmines on people's lives, rather than the sheer number of mines, that should decide the viability and focus of mine action programs, the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, recommends in its study released Tuesday.

Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Laos and Mozambique are generally considered to be the countries most heavily affected by landmines and unexploded ordnance. In all, the United Nations is providing support to 29 mine affected countries.

In countries such as Laos, where farmland is scarce, Geneva Centre analysts say, the cost of mine clearance is justified on an economic basis alone because of the high value of land that is returned to productive use.

"A straight cost-benefit analysis is not the end of the story," said Ian Mansfield, team leader of UNDP's mine action unit in New York. "Social aspects should also count when the feasibility of a mine action program is considered."

In the case of Mozambique, where farmland is more plentiful, the time women spend on tending crops has a higher impact on agricultural productivity than access to more farmland. The analysts found that a 10 percent increase in the time women have available to tend crops would pay greater dividends than a 10 percent increase in the land available for cropping.

Mine clearance that reduces the time women must spend fetching water, such as clearing a short-cut to a water point, may have a higher social and economic impact on their lives than general clearance of agricultural land.

Social and economic impact will never be the sole criteria for determining priorities in mine action, the Geneva Centre study predicted. Immediately after a war, the priorities will be to save lives, facilitate the return of refugees and enable society to rebuild.

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A minimum metal antipersonnel mine (diameter: 8 centimeters (3 inches), height: 3.5 cm (1.3 inches). More than 700 types of mines are known. (Photo courtesy Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)
But mine action is a long term activity. It can take decades, the UNDP study said. Priorities shift over time from immediate survival to creating opportunities for land to be farmed, goods to be transported and schools to be re-opened, all with very limited resources.

"This study constitutes a landmark in moving the debate away from numbers of mines or square meters cleared, toward a more meaningful measure of the true impact of mine action on people's lives," said Mansfield.

The governments of Canada, Germany, the United States, the World Bank, the Survey Action Centre and the International Development Research Centre supported the study.

An international treaty bans the explosives, the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction.

It has been ratified by 114 countries and signed by 140. Since the treaty has become law, countries may no longer sign it, they must accede to it. Those countries which have already signed, must still ratify in order to be fully bound by the ban provisions.

Fifty-three countries have not signed the treaty including Afghanistan, China, Cuba, India, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Laos, North and South Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United States, and Vietnam.

Sixteen countries continue to produce anti-personnel mines, including the United States.

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Widely used in Afghanistan, the Soviet PFM-1 scatterable pressure sensitive blast mine is also known as the butterfly mine because of its shape, which attracts children who think it is a toy. (Photo courtesy John Walker, Fourmilab Switzerland)
In Geneva, Switzerland this week, a meeting of the intersessional Standing Committee on General Status and Operation is taking place to ensure the systematic and effective implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty. Today's session focuses on stockpile destruction.

At least 26 countries that are parties to the treaty have completed landmine stockpile destruction, and another 19 have started destruction programs.

Thirteen parties have not yet begun the destruction process: Brazil, Chad, Djibouti, Macedonia FYR, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Portugal, Rwanda, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela. For those who joined the treaty prior to the March 1, 1999 entry into force date, the treaty mandated deadline for total destruction of stocks is March 1, 2003, less than two years away.

Landmine Monitor, a landmines watchdog group based in Washington, DC, estimates that there are 235 to 250 million antipersonnel mines stockpiled by at least 100 countries, according to a report prepared by the group for this week's meeting in Geneva.