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Land mines threaten ‘4 million Afghans’

January 19, 2010 Leave a comment

A pile of land mines

“Since 1979 an estimated 640,000 mines have been laid,” according to a video clip by the UK’s Guardian showing a de-mining program in rural Afghanistan.  The country is one of the most mined in the world, with farms, orchards, water sources, towns, and cities covered by this dangerous and indiscriminate killer. The mining of the country has been persistent since the the 1979 Soviet invasion of the country, running through the civil war and the current war. Resources for de-mining resources are hard to come by in the already strained country, and, since mines are hidden, it is never clear to locals what patch of earth may be deadly often until they suffer the serious consequences of an explosion. The capital city of Kabul has been no exception, mines are found even there.  Doctors Without Borders explains this: “The capital, Kabul, was mined heavily by mujaheddin commanders after the Soviet withdrawal. Between 1992 – 95, Kabul became the focus for severe fighting between rival mujaheddin factions battling over control of the city. Large parts of the city – particularly western Kabul – were mined as a result of house-to-house fighting.”

Most of the landmines in Afghanistan were emplaced during the Soviet occupation and the subsequent communist regime between 1980 and 1992. Landmines were also used in the internal fighting among various armed groups after 1992, particularly in Kabul city and its outskirts. The Taliban claimed to have stopped use in 1998, though some allegations persisted. The Northern Alliance admitted to use in 1999 and 2000, but said it stopped in 2001, despite evidence to the contrary.” (Landmine Monitor Report 2001, pp. 497-500)

The use of cluster bombs has exasperated the problem, with unexploded munitions adding another layer of danger. “One particularly deadly unexploded munition was the BLU-97 bomblet, which was dispensed from the U.S. CBU-87 and CBU-103 cluster bombs.

According to Doctors Without Borders, “Minefields have been laid by both Soviet and Afghan forces, and mines have been used in all phases of the Afghan conflict: in vast quantities during the Soviet occupation, during the power struggle between mujaheddin commanders after the Soviet withdrawal, and now during fighting between Taliban forces and other Afghan commanders.”

158 countries have signed on to a Mine Ban Treaty. Russia, US, China, and India have refused to sign the treaty. “Landmines are known to have caused 5197 casualties last year, a third of them children, according to the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which links some 1000 activist groups.” (The Daily Telegraph)

“The United States has not used antipersonnel mines since 1991, has not exported them since 1992, has not produced them since 1997, and has no plans for future procurement,” according to Human Rights Watch. Despite this they have refused to sign on to the treaty, sometimes mentioning that doing so would undermine their efforts in the  DMZ line between North and South Korea, an area that is heavily mined.  Every other NATO member has endorsed the treaty.

A representative of the permanent mission of Afghanistan to the UN made the following statement on October 30, 2009:

Since 1979, it has been estimated that over 640,000 mines have been laid in Afghanistan; and that as recently as 2008, 4,924 hazardous mine areas remained in the country. These areas comprise an estimated 720 kilometers of land, threatening over 2,220 communities and 4 million Afghans. Further, 75% of these impacted communities are found in 12 of the country’s 34 provinces. Many Afghan farmers have also lost their farms and so their livelihoods, as 75.6% of this mine territory is used for agriculture. Afghanistan remains one of the most heavily contaminated countries in the world, and there are still over 700 kilometers of land contaminated by an estimated 56 different types of land mines.

Afghanistan continues to experience daily reminders of the mines’ lethality: from January to July 2008, in a mere six months, 1445 victims of mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) were reported, and 50% of these were children. 2.7% of Afghanistan’s population has been labeled as “severely disabled” and 9% of these disabilities have been attributed to landmines.

Known Landmine Problem in Afghanistan (as of December 2001) [MAPA Monthly Progress Report, December 2001]

Area (sq meters)
Agriculture
Residential
Irrigation
Road
Grazing
Total Area
(Square meters)
Total mined area cleared
(All high priority)
98,022,000
29,185,000
8,414,000
29,820,000
74,175,000
239,618,000
High priority area remaining to be cleared
162,618,000
16,058,000
3,090,000
34,538,000
143,699,000
360,011,000
Low priority area remaining to be cleared
26,029,000
126,000
582,000
7,135,000
343,416,000
377,288,000
Total mined area remaining to be cleared
188,647,000
16,184,000
3,672,000
41,673,000
487,115,000
737,299,000
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