COVID-19 impacting landmine clearance efforts


Landmines and explosive weapons in conflicts worldwide continue to kill and injure thousands of people every year by landmine while the COVID-19 pandemic forced mine clearance efforts to be scaled back according to a UN-backed civil society report.

According to the Landmine Monitor 2020 more than 80% of the world – 164 countries – adopted the Mine Ban Treaty 23 years after it was drafted and signed. Most of the 33 countries not bound by it, comply.

Despite this achievement, long-running conflicts continue to cause mainly civilian casualties, while other dangers requiring action include the use of improvised landmines by non-State armed groups and a decrease in global mine action assistance.

For 2019, “we recorded about 2 200 people killed of 5 545 casualties overall”, said Loren Persi, Landmine Monitor 2020 Impact research team leader of The International Campaign to Ban Landmines/Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC), at a virtual press conference moderated by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNDIR) in Geneva.

He said the ratio of people killed to injured, indicated clearly “there are more casualties and people injured by landmines and explosive remnants of war are not recorded adequately in many countries where there are conflicts”.

Most casualties are civilians, in part because they lack access to emergency assistance military targets have at their disposal and men make up more than eight in 10 victims, journalists heard.

“Seven years ago, we reached an all-time low in new landmine casualties. This achievement has overturned and we are seeing higher numbers of civilians killed and wounded. Nearly half the casualties are children. We need to act to reverse this trend, save lives and address the trauma and suffering with much needed assistance.”

Landmine awareness raising schemes are a proven method of keeping communities safe, accidents involving civilians are frequently linked to the need to work or find food, said Ruth Bottomley, Monitor research specialist and expert on contamination, clearance and risk education.

“Men have always been one of the hardest groups for education operators to reach, partly because they are often away from home, focusing on making a living,” she said.

“Those livelihood activities often take them into mined areas, for example agriculture, forestry, hunting and they are more likely to take risks.”

Despite improvements in providing services for victims of landmines – improvised or not – or unexploded ordnance, the Monitor noted “accessibility gaps remained in all countries”.

The COVID-19 pandemic and related movement restrictions prevented survivors and people with disabilities from accessing services in mine-affected countries, it added, noting children represented 43% of civilian casualties.

“Conflict is ongoing in several State parties hampering clearance efforts,” Bottomley said. “There is new contamination adding to the problem and making it more difficult to estimate contamination.”

In the last year, the only confirmed use of anti-personnel landmines by State forces was by Myanmar, according to the Monitor. “They have been using every single year in the 22 years the Monitor has reported, so is not surprising, but they’re now alone in continuing to use this weapon on a regular basis,” said Stephen Goose, Director of Human Rights Watch’s Arms Division.

More worrying are allegations of landmine use by non-State armed groups “in about a dozen other countries” according to him.

Over the reporting period, the Monitor said non-State armed groups used anti-personnel mines in Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Libya, Myanmar, and Pakistan.

“We haven’t been able to confirm in any of these countries, but that many allegations are to be a disturbing factor,” he said.

On a positive note, the Monitor highlighted destruction of anti-personnel mine stocks “continues to be one of the great successes” of the Mine Ban Treaty.

More than 55 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines have been destroyed to date, including over 269 000 destroyed in 2019.