Today is International Mine Awareness Day, set aside by the UN to raise awareness about the threat of mines, unexploded grenades and other munitions impeding a return to normal life after conflict.
South Africa, through Denel company Mechem, is an international contributor to demining and an approved UN contractor in this exacting and perilous field.
The company has been doing commercial demining since 1991 and has worked in many African countries as well as places such as Afghanistan to allow people to start living normally following the cessation of hostilities.
“An unprecedented volume of landmines and unexploded weapons contaminates rural and urban war zones, maiming and killing innocent civilians long after conflict has ended,” UN secretary-general Antonia Guterres said in his message on the day, marked annually internationally on April 4.
Noting roads cleared of explosive devices enable peacekeepers to patrol and protect civilians, he said: “Mine action is vital”.
“When fields are cleared and schools and hospitals are made safe, normal life can resume.”
According to the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) after nearly two decades of steadily diminishing casualty rates, the total number of people killed or injured by landmines and other explosive hazards in recent and current conflicts has grown to its highest level since 1999.
Mine action, including clearance, risk education and assistance to victims is critical for advancing protection, peace and development.
“In our turbulent world, mine action is a concrete step towards peace,” Guterres said.
Most places affected by armed conflicts are contaminated by a variety of explosive hazards, said Daniel Craig, the UN Global Advocate for the Elimination of Mines and Explosive Hazards.
Whether landmines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), artillery shells or cluster bombs, he said in his message on the Day: “They are equal opportunity killers.”
“When triggered, they kill indiscriminately. Soldier or civilian. Male or female. Old or young,” he said, explaining over time they can be more and more easily detonated to the point where “they can be triggered by a child jumping rope.”
Craig, best known for his role as ‘007′ in the James Bond films, outlined how mines curtail freedom – the freedom to play, collect food and water, farm and even vote.
“Roadside bombs against United Nations personnel and humanitarian workers prevent them from accessing and helping those in need. We, the people of the United Nations, must join forces to defeat these deadly devices and win the fight against fear and inhumane suffering.”
“Join me. Join us. Let’s win.”