EXPLOSIVE REMNANTS OF WAR: LANDMINES, CLUSTERBOMBS, ETC.

   Explosive remnants of war (ERW) are the explosive debris of war which includes unexploded ordnance such as anti-personnel Landmines, cluster bombs,  artillery shells, mortars, grenades, rockets, and IEDS. Each year large numbers of civilians and military personnel are killed and injured  by these  “explosive remnants of war”.   When an armed conflict is over, the battlefields are littered with explosive debris.

   For the civilians and communities in war-affected countries the presence of these ERWs represents an ongoing threat. Many innocent civilians have lost their lives and limbs by disturbing or inadvertently coming into contact with explosive remnants of war.  ERWs hinder reconstruction and threaten economic livelihood. Houses, hospitals and schools cannot be rebuilt until such weapons are cleared. Contaminated land cannot be farmed.

   Globally, there are millions of explosive remnants of war on the ground today affecting more than 80 countries.  Some countries have been dealing with this problem for decades.  In Laos, where the wars in Indochina ended in 1975, tens of millions of explosive remnants of war still remain to be cleared. More recent conflicts, such as those in Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan have also produced significant amounts of explosive remnants of war.   

Here's more information about anti-personnel landmines and cluster bombs:

ANTI-PERSONNEL LANDMINES

Wars should end when the fighting stops. Yet anti-personnel landmines kill and maim long after conflicts are over.

The actual number of landmines currently in place globally is unknown, but some estimates run as high as 70 million.  Countries also have stockpiles of millions of landmines.

 Mines are buried in nearly seventy countries -  Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia, Cambodia, and  Iraq are some of the most heavily mined countries. 

Landmines can remain “active” for over fifty years.  Landmines in the ground from World War II can still be a threat to civilian populations.

Landmines cost as little as $3 to produce; it costs between $300 and $1,000 to locate and destroy a  single mine.  Technological advances have made landmines more dangerous and more difficult to detect as many are now made of plastic.

Many landmines have a mechanism that is set off by pressure – for example, a mine that is buried in the ground that goes off when you step on it.  Other landmines may be set off by a tripwire that is set across a path and is all but invisible in the brush – when your foot pulls on the tripwire a pin is pulsed that sets off the explosion.

Some  types of landmines are:

  • Blast mines  are buried in the and are generally triggered by someone stepping on the pressure plate. These mines are designed to destroy an object in close proximity, such as a person's foot or leg. A blast mine is designed to break the targeted object into fragments, which can cause secondary damage, such as infection and amputation.

  • Bounding mines are usually buried with only a small part of the igniter protruding from the ground, these mines are pressure or tripwire activated. When activated, the igniter sets off a propelling charge, lifting the mine about one meter into the air. The mine then ignites a main charge, causing injury to a person's head and chest.

  • Fragmentation mines release fragments in all directions, causing injury up to 200 meters away and killing victims at closer distances. The fragments used in these mines are either metal or glass.

Landmine detection and disposal falls into two categories - military mine clearance and humanitarian mine clearance. The objective of military mine clearance is to create a path for the advancement of troops.

Humanitarian mine clearance addresses the needs of civilian populations and the focus is to make an area 100 percent clear of landmines.   The aim of locating and destroying mines is combined with the goal of restoring an environment where people can return home, rebuild their houses, and cultivate their fields without fear. 

Most often landmine detection involves a woman or man investigating and probing a suspected area.  Even with protective equipment this is dangerous and often deadly  work.   Demining can be done by mechanical means such as metal detectors.  New technologies, such as ground-penetrating radar and passive infrared detection, are being developed,  Animals such as dogs, rats, and even bees, can be trained sniff the explosive in a mine are a relatively inexpensive method of mine detection.

Landmines are generally destroyed in place with explosives.   Putting an explosive charge around a landmine and detonating it is also very dangerous work.

Armored vehicles may also be used to destroy landmines, but they have limited use as they are expensive and may not be able to maneuver difficult terrain.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines estimates that 15,000-20,000 people are maimed or killed by landmines each year; over 80% of these victims are civilians, many are women and children.  Children are particularly vulnerable as they are smaller and their body mass is closer to the impact of a mine. 

Landmines are indiscriminate weapons by nature, not distinguishing  between a soldier's boot and a child's footstep - they wreak carnage long after hostilities have ended.  Men, women, and  children step on landmines, usually when trying to farm, herd livestock, or gather firewood.  Sometimes the victim dies from the blast, due to loss of blood or because they don’t get to medical care in time.

The most common injury results from stepping on a buried landmine which causes the traumatic amputation of a foot or leg. The  initial blast tears the foot apart, causing the foot and toes to peel away from the leg. The action of the blast forces dirt, mine fragments, bone and tissue to be driven deep up into what is remaining of the leg.

Another type of injury is caused by the victim triggering a fragmentation mine which peppers the body  with hot, razor sharp metal fragments. If the victim is not killed immediately, he or she suffers from horrific wounds which can affect any part or all of the body.

Sometimes people will pick up a landmine – like curious children who don’t realize what it is or people looking for scrap metal to sell.  A person handling a mine that explodes usually receives severe wounds of the hands and face.

Landmine victims need emergency medical treatment, continuing medical care, physical rehabilitation, prostheses  and assistive devices, psychological and social support, and training for employment.  Many of the most mine impacted countries also have the most limited resources to provide survivors with these necessary services.

Fewer than 10% of landmine victims have access to proper medical care and rehabilitation services. Transportation to medical aid and treatment can be slow and limited; infections of the wounds take a high toll.  Due to population growth, poverty, disease and violent conflict, the number of people who need rehabilitation services increases each year. Existing rehabilitation services do not come close to coping with this growing demand.

It costs about $100 to thousands of dollars to provide an artificial limb to a landmine survivor.  On average these must be replaced every three to five years for adults, and every six months for children to adjust to his or her growing body.  

Artificial limbs can be very simple to very advanced, incorporating computer and other technologies. 

For some landmine victims, due to the type of injury they receive, or due to economics crutches or wheelchairs are the only source of mobility. Landmine victims can suffer long term economic, societal, and psychological  problems. It can be very difficult for a landmine victim who’s missing a limb to earn an income to support a family.  In some societies amputees are ostracized. 

  

The following passage is from ``Landmines: A Resource Book'', by Rae McGrath, about an incident in Afghanistan:

"A small boy, about nine years old, was following his goats as they grazed in the mountains.  His name is not known.  He was probably playing a little, throwing stones maybe, or he would have noticed the small green mine that blew his foot off at the ankle. 

From what we know of how people react, from the memories of those who have survived, the boy probably dragged himself to where his foot lay.

He would have tried to put his foot back on the bleeding stump of his ankle.

He would have cried or maybe just sat lonely and quiet and helpless and slipped into unconsciousness. 

His goats must have stayed until after he died, probably until wild dogs arrived at the scene.  We have no way of knowing exactly what happened; the dogs found him days before we did." 

 

CLUSTER BOMBS

Cluster bombs are of two types, those delivered by air and those delivered by surface artillery or rockets. Cluster bombs are designed to disperse bomblets over a large area, with a wide radius of death and destruction over a target.  

Cluster bombs were first used in World War II; they are useful to the military because the size of the ‘footprint’ they leave is much greater than that of a single bomb.  They saturate an area with explosives and tiny flying shards of steel; an army may flood a battlefield with clusterbombs in order to increase the change of striking the intended target. 

Depending on the type, bomblets can be dispersed to areas as large as several football fields. Cluster bombs are used in very large numbers and have a high initial failure rate which results in numerous explosive "duds" that pose the same post-conflict problem as antipersonnel landmines. They are indiscriminate, unable to distinguish between a military target and civilians; ‘duds’ can be extremely unstable. The qualities that make a cluster bomb militarily desirable also make it dangerous to unintended targets - 1) cluster bombs are prone to causing civilian casualties during strikes, and 2) they leave large numbers of unexploded bomblets, or duds, which threaten civilians after the conflict.  Failure or dud rates are often in the 10%-15% range, but may be as high as 30%. While the term “dud” suggests deactivation, in reality many duds remain armed and dangerous.

These highly lethal munitions may explode when bumped, moved, or touched, frequently killing more than one person because of their wide fragmentation patterns. When the bomblets contained inside cluster bombs fail to explode on contact as intended, they become in effect antipersonnel landmines-volatile and deadly remnants of war that can explode from a simple touch. They have proven to be a serious and long-lasting threat to civilians, soldiers, peacekeepers, and clearance experts. 98 percent of cluster bomb victims are civilians. 

Cluster bomblet duds function like antipersonnel mines but are not covered under the 1997 Landmine Ban Treaty.   It is thought that at least eighteen nations produce cluster munitions and more than four dozen have stockpiles of the weapons; U.S. has a stockpile of about 5.5 million cluster bombs - that’s 728 million bomblets.  Like landmines, cluster bomblets must be located and destroyed one by one, a costly and time-consuming process.

And like landmines, cluster bombs kill and injure long after a war ends.  Laotian villagers continue to die today, more than 30 years after the last cluster bombs fell on their soil. Multiple injuries raise the level of pain and suffering, resulting in prolonged and difficult medical treatment which in developing countries is limited at best; the cumulative effect of the many injuries increases the mortality risk

As Veterans for Peace we must do all we can to end the scourge of injury and death caused by explosive remnants of war. 

We can:

  • demand that the United States sign the Landmine Ban Treaty
  • demand that the United States support the Convention on Cluster Munitions support Congressional efforts to end the use of cluster bombs
  • support global demining efforts
  • support assistance to the victims of the explosive remnants of war educate others about this horrific legacy of war

 


 

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