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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

International Day for Mine Awareness: A landmine-free world within reach

© UNICEF/HQ92-1674/Lemoyne
A boy injured by a landmine puts on a prosthesis in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Despite progress in mine eradication, explosive remnants of war still pose a threat in more than 80 countries.

By Rachel Bonham Carter

NEW YORK, USA, 4 April 2006 – Children could be free from the threat of landmines and other explosive remnants of war much sooner than previously thought. According to the ‘Landmine Monitor Report 2005’, between 15,000 and 20,000 people – at least 20 per cent of them children – are killed or maimed by these devices each year. But that number has been decreasing over the last decade.

UNICEF believes the problem could be completely eradicated within a matter of years if current efforts continue. Today, on the first International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, mine-affected countries have the opportunity to remind donors that the issue has not yet gone away but that with continued support, it will.

“The main message of the day is that the threat of landmines and other remnants of war or unexploded ordnance can be solved in years, not decades,” explains UNICEF’s Senior Programme Officer Paula Claycombe. “That’s the good news. But in order to accomplish that, we need continued financial assistance and support for both mine clearance and mine risk education, and for ensuring that all survivors are taken care of.”

Activities to mark the day are taking place in 29 mine-affected countries around the world, while in New York UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Danny Glover is joining a panel discussion on landmines with UN experts and mine activists.

© UNICEF/HQ04-0770/Bonn
Landmine survivors, all under 18, march to promote a ban on landmines as they welcome UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Danny Glover to their primary school in the village of Addis Tesfa, Ethiopia.

Awareness saves children’s lives

When conflict comes to an end, combatants often leave behind landmines, abandoned ordnance and unexploded weapons like cluster bombs and grenades. They all pose a huge threat to civilians, particularly children who are drawn to play with unfamiliar objects.

Teaching children how to live safely amidst this threat, and how to reduce the risk of being killed or severely disabled by a mine, is one of UNICEF’s key activities in this area.

In Sri Lanka’s Batticloa District, 14-year-old Varatharaj Thinesh recently had a narrow escape that illustrates how mine awareness can save lives. Varatharaj inadvertently uncovered the edge of an anti-personnel landmine that apparently had floated into the children’s club in his home village during a monsoon. Fortunately, Varatharaj is involved in a mine risk education programme funded and coordinated by UNICEF, in partnership with the non-governmental organization Sarvodaya. So he knew not to touch the mine or panic, but instead to call for help so that it could be removed safely.

"Despite the mine I found, I do feel safe within the boundaries of the village because it has been cleared,” says Varatharaj. “But I don't know what is outside."

Education, advocacy and assistance

“UNICEF has three major pillars of support” for its work on landmines, says Ms. Claycombe. “One is mine risk education in more than 30 mine-affected countries around the world. Our programmes inform communities about the risks of walking into certain areas – what to and what not to pick up, for example.

© UNICEF/HQ04-0762/Thomas
Prosthetic limbs allow Lay Sokhum, 14, to bicycle to school in the village of Au Roel in western Cambodia. Lay lost both legs in 2002 when he stepped on a landmine while working in his father's field.

“The second pillar is advocacy. We advocate for universal ratification of the Mine Ban Treaty. We also advocate on the development and implementation of legislation at the national level in order to reduce the threat of landmines.

“And the third pillar is what we call victim assistance – ensuring that children in particular who are injured in a landmine incident receive care and support both immediately and in the long-term, so they are able to become contributing members of their community.”

The Mine Ban Treaty, which came into force in 1999, has now been ratified by more than three-quarters of the world’s nations. It outlaws the production, stockpiling and use of antipersonnel landmines.

The threat of mines still exists in more than 80 countries. The most contaminated include Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Colombia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.




4 April 2006:
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Danny Glover talks about the devastating effects of landmines on children.

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4 April 2006:
On the first International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, UNICEF correspondent Rachel Bonham Carter reports on progress in landmine eradication.

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