Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fieldnotes: Landmines Persist

Orthopaedic Centre, Wazir Hospital, 
Kabul, Afghanistan, 1995

Wazir Hammond, age nine, requires prosthesis refittings every six months. He rests against a wall of sandbags that protect the hospital against rockets, shelling, and bombs. An estimated 10 million landmines pollute nearly 500 sq. km of land in Afghanistan.  

There are too many buried landmines in Afghanistan to find them all. Demining is slow and expensive. The United Nations has estimated that removing the world’s active mines will cost between $33 and $85 billion. If no more mines were laid, and at the present rate of mine-clearance it would take about 1100 years to clear all the landmines.

The victims are mostly non-combatants and mostly women and children collecting firewood and tending animals. People without choices. The ICRC estimates that landmines strike someone, somewhere, every 22 minutes. Each year these indiscriminate weapons kill or maim some 26,000 people in 50 countries where at least 115 million lie hidden. They cost about $1 each to plant and between $300 and $1000 to remove.

154 countries have signed the 1997 Ottawa Treaty that “banned” landmines. Landmine producing states that did not sign the treaty are: Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, theUnited States, and Vietnam.

Minefield near Kandahar, Afghanistan

"The detector sounds different over a landmine compared to a (scrap metal) fragment...but there are many PMNs (Russian made landmines) here and sometimes the metal ring on them is so rusted away that they don't sound like mines... I have been surprised... I was sure it was another fragment but it was a real landmine... I always feel anxious about this" says Deminer Gul Ahmad. 

He has four children and is paid about $150.month as a deminer – about ten times the average wage in Afghanistan. Gul is one of 24 deminers working to clear this 42,000 square metre area. The team has worked here for twenty-six days, and expect to finish in twenty more days. Eight landmines are found today, making a total so far of 103, plus 25 unexploded mortar and artillery shells, and 47,825 metal fragments.

Orthopaedic Centre, Maputo Central Hospital, Mozambique, 1996
 When Zaida Ernesto Bahule was 4, the ground exploded
Zaida, is a soft spoken twelve year old girl with a remarkable memory of eight years ago, - when she was riding on her mother's back, going to fetch water, when her mother stepped on what was likely a Russian-made PMN landmine. Life was shattered when about 26.4 kg. of foot pressure detonated 200 grams of TNT. The blast that erupted from the earth hurled them into the air, instantly shredding Zaida's right leg, - by macerating tissue and muscle, and firing pieces of bone, clothing, shoe, and debris, deep up into that leg, and the rest of the her tiny body. On the ground, Zaida asked her mother what happened.  "She told me we were hurt from a landmine and that if, in a little while, she did not answer when I called to her, it meant she was dead, and that I must get home," Zaida says, almost in a whisper. She tells me that both of her mother's legs and one of her arms were gone, and that she soon died.  Zaida lay beside her dead mother for three days before help arrived. 
                     PMN Russian-made landmine


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  2. Dear fellow blogger,

    Your post really shook me. I am interested in knowing if the story you tell in this article is about your personal experiences with these people, and I' curious to know if you'd be interesting in sharing more about your experiences. I just recently created a blog concerning a landmine campaign to ban mines, so I find this more than interesting!
    Please do not hesitate to contact me through my blog or