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Deadly landmines threaten the lives and well-being of children in rural Colombia

© UNTV video
Mine victim Irma, 16, (right) talks with UNICEF Mine Action Officer Sharon Ball, at the entrance of a cemetery in the rural village of El Pato, Bajo Cauca, Antioquia, Colombia.

NEW YORK, USA, 4 April 2007 – Nearly six years ago, when Irma Janeth was 10, she accidentally set her left foot on a landmine while walking through the woods in her hometown of Quebradona, rural Colombia. The explosion tore off one of her legs instantly, and left her unable to bear children.

“It’s too horrible, what happens to people with these mines,” said Irma. Despite the tragedy, Irma is determined to put the past behind her. “How do to get on with your life if you just keep crying about what happened to you?”

Having lost two years of school because of the accident, she has now resumed her studies. But like other young victims, she still needs help.

To assist civilians like Irma, the UN General Assembly has declared April 4 the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. The events will raise awareness about landmines, unexploded ordnance (UXO), and progress toward their eradication.

Landmines and explosive remnants of war continue to kill or injure 15,000 people a year, many of them children, who are more likely to pick up and play with unfamiliar objects.

Mine action includes finding and destroying landmines and UXO, assisting victims, teaching people how to remain safe in a mine-affected environment, and destroying stockpiled landmines.

© UNTV video
Gregorio Carvajal, 44, lost his leg - and one eye - to a landmine. He is now unable to farm his small plot of land.

The deadly legacy of war

What happened to Irma is common in rural Colombia these days. The long-standing civil conflict between Government troops, guerrillas, and paramilitary forces has left landmines and unexploded ordnance sitting throughout Colombia’s countryside.

Based on the latest study on landmines, Colombia has registered the highest mine and UXO victim rate worldwide. The deadly legacy of war is causing grave problems, especially in rural areas, where 96 per cent of mine-related accidents take place.

“Last year alone we had 65 new child victims,” said Sharon Ball, UNICEF mine action officer. “A child victim will need a new prosthesis every four months especially if they’re living in a rural area because of wear and tear – and that’s a dramatic cost for a family coming from a poor area.”

The impact of landmine accidents on local communities is devastating, says mine risk educator Martina Murillo. “It has created nothing but panic and loss among people here.”

© UNTV video
Through singing and games, students in rural Colombia are now learning how to protect themselves from landmines.

Prevention is the best cure

As serious as the mine problem is in Colombia, there is no humanitarian de-mining in the country.  Working with the UN, Army engineers are just now starting to train dogs to sniff out explosives.

Making children wise to the dangers of landmines is another way to fight the threat. With UNICEF’s support, mine education classes have been carried out among local schools. Using songs and games, students learn how to identify the dangerous objects and what to do to protect themselves from their lethal effect.

Until nationwide de-mining can be undertaken here, prevention measures like these - coupled with help for the victims’ families - are the most realistic ways to counter the constant threat of landmines.




April 2007: 
A report on the damage that landmines have caused to Colombia’s children and young people.
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