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A Day to be Mindful of Land Mines

Today is an opportunity to revitalize international support for mine action, as we celebrate International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. The day emphasizes that clearing land of explosive remnants of war saves lives and protects livelihoods, and that landmines and other unexploded devices – known as unexploded ordnance, or UXO – are unique because their destructiveness is indiscriminate and long outlasts the conflicts in which they are used. They are particularly dangerous for children. Furthermore, landmines violate nearly all the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They severely disrupt economic activity, halt rebuilding after conflict and lead to increased food security because farming and irrigation are prevented.

Landmines and explosive remnants of war continue to kill or injure thousands of people a year. With high level interest in the Convention on Cluster Munitions (54 member states have already ratified it) and the innovative Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (98 member states have already ratified it) worldwide efforts to remove landmines and explosive remnants of war are at the top of the United Nations agenda.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for “universal adherence to these important treaties, increased support for mine awareness and mine action, and greater global solidarity in support of this crucial element in our drive to build a safer and more prosperous world for all.”

UNICEF, for example, is planning to mark the day through a number of activities in Lao PDR – the most bombed country per capita in history. UXO survivors are attending workshops on advocacy in Vientiane Capital and will be given the opportunity to speak at a special event today, to be held at the National University of Laos stadium.

In the past, close to twenty-one countries have hosted special events to mark the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action on or around April 4th. This day has drawn attention to the plight of survivors and the gradual reduction in new casualties since the anti-personnel mine-ban treaty entered into force in 1999.

Action on land mines was a big focus of UNA-USA up through 2 years ago, when they successfully concluded their Adopt-a-Minefield campaign. UNA-USA raised over $25 million for mine action, cleared over 1,000 minefields, and assisted thousands of survivors. Globally, now there are only 6,000 new casualties each year—as opposed to the 25,000 annual rate recorded in the late 1990’s. There are 156 signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT)—that’s 80% of the world’s nations! Only two countries used landmines last in 2008—rather than the previously widespread use in over 80 countries.  This shows progress can be made.

But more progress is still needed.

Most of the current events around the world are hosted jointly by governments of mine-affected countries and the United Nations agencies that support their mine action efforts and ranged from official events with statements by top governmental and United Nations officials, to mine risk education theater performances, concerts, fund-raisers and photographic exhibitions.

Despite its many well-documented successes, however, mine action remains underfunded. The 2011 portfolio of projects has secured only about a quarter of the needed resources, leaving a funding gap of $367 million.

So there are ways in which YOU can help. The easiest way to get involved is to join the movement to raise awareness about the continued danger of landmines among your family and friends and around the world.  Stay connected to what UNICEF is doing, and help work towards a more peaceful and just future for all.


Steps to a Mine-Free World

On August 1st 2010, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, in the making since February 2007, finally came into effect. The pact was officially created in February of 2010 when the countries of Moldova and Burkina Faso ratified the convention to complete the needed thirty ratifications. The international convention bans the production, use and stockpiling of cluster munitions.

The Convention requires, among other things, that signatory countries must not only disarm and destroy all existent cluster munitions, but also provide medical and psychological care for the victims of these weapons. They need to clearly mark and to their best attempts remove all mines from known areas where cluster munitions may have been distributed. In addition, they should fund risk education so civilians will know how to handle and keep their distance from the weapons.

Cluster bombs often hold up to hundreds of explosive submunitions that are intended to detonate upon impact. The bombs are typically fired from the ground or dropped by air and erupt to cover expansive areas sometimes as large as several football fields. However, cluster bombs are known to have a high initial failure rate so that the submunitions do not detonate immediately. This leaves them volatile threats for decades to come. Mines can remain active for up to 50 years and can be very difficult to clear. In addition they are not precision guided so there is no way to predict that they will stay in the strategic area that they were fired, often encroaching into civilian territory.

Landmines are especially dangerous for children, who may be too young to heed the posted warnings or who may curiously explore the fatal areas. Children are also less able to recover from the injuries from these submunitions because they are not yet fully developed.

Cluster bombs are intended for military purposes, yet according to UNICEF (the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) 98% of the victims are civilians. These weapons have killed over 10,000 civilians world wide, of which 40% are children.

Currently, 107 states have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, demonstrating the overwhelming support to solve the landmine issue and the success of multi-country collaboration. The participating countries and organizations have successfully illuminated the broader harm of these weapons beyond the use of military personnel.