Commemorating the 20th year since the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) took effect. Mine action 3

On March 1, 1999, the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) came into force, prohibiting the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines; also calling for the destruction of all existing stockpiles, together with the clearance of all mined areas. Since 2019 marks the 20th year since it took effect, Seiji KONNO, a program officer at our Tokyo office, provides in this article some general information on mine action. We are going to focus on mine clearance in this issue.

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Commemoratingthe 20th year since the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) tookeffect  “Mine action (2) “

How can you protect yourself from landmines?

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Autonomous Region of Kosovo (as of 1945-1963), Zambia, Angola, Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria – these are the countries where AAR Japan has initiated mine risk education, to help protect local people from landmines. Since it takes a long time to clear landmines, we need to make sure that those who have no choice but to live in these countries, can become free from the threat of mines. We approach local people by using posters, movies, and radio programs, so that even illiterate people or small children can easily understand what to do, or what not to do. We prepare teaching materials in such a way that local people can easily familiarize themselves with the issues, through respecting their local culture and translating the content into the local language. Since most of these locals have no access to TVs or magazines, many people appreciate our teaching materials, and as a result, these materials have become quite popular among local people.

Chiaki Furukawa, an AAR staff member, passing out teaching materials, which explain how to protect yourself from landmines in Afghanistan (to the right)

The most important things to know

Landmines, placed on or buried under the ground, are activated by approaching people or vehicles. It is important to keep in mind the following items to protect yourself from landmines:
1.  Shapes and colors of landmines
2.  Threat of landmines
3.  Places where you are likely to encounter landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXOs)
4.  Signs for detecting landmines (e.g. animal corpse, broken tanks)
5.  Signs or marks showing where landmines are buried
6.  What to do and what not to do
7.  What to do when you find a landmine
8.  What to do when you are injured by a landmine

A page from the teaching materials, showing the sign to stay away from landmines (in Sudan)

In our mine risk education, we used to focus on teaching the color, shape and size of landmines. Such information was vital to those engaged in mine clearance, when we were targeting the organizations specializing in mine risk education, in order to ensure that the staff would definitely learn to recognize the shape and appearance of landmines. However, when it comes to protecting ordinary people from landmines, it is more important to teach them “where mines are planted” and “how they can detect mines with the help of marks or signs”. Even if we put up signs or marks warning local people of the possible dangers of mines, it doesn’t help if local people enter these dangerous areas without realizing the possible risks involved. In addition, we need to keep reminding local people of how they can avoid mines. In every country mentioned above, AAR has trained local staff to take charge of mine risk education, who can then frequently visit local people and give lectures on mine risk education.

The increase in the number of child victims

AAR has been serving as a research partner for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).
Every year, they publish Landmine Monitor, an annual report, which contains information on mine use, casualties and clearance. It says that in 2017 alone, casualties among civilians caused by explosive remnants from war, such as landmines and UXOs, added up to 5,183 – of which 47% were children (773 dead and 1,679 injured). 84% of these children were boys, which means that substantially more boys fell victim than girls.

In Afghanistan, of the 2,297 casualties in 2017, children make up 55% (1,270), and the percentage is sadly rising year after year. In Afghanistan, for religious reasons, girls and women are discouraged from going out, which is why boys and men are more likely to encounter landmines and fall victim to them. AAR has been offering mine risk education at schools and at community centers, targeting not only boys and men, but also girls and women. In this way, we hope that girls and women can share the information with their family members, including pre-school children.

Ali stepped on a landmine and lost his legs at the age of 3. Now he wears an artificial left leg. With the support of AAR, he has become able to go to school. (The photo was taken
    at the age of 8)

Measures to be taken against Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)

In recent years, the number of casualties caused by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) has been on the increase. According to the 2018 edition of Landmine Monitor, the number of casualties among civilians and military personnel combined, adds up to 7,239. Of them, the number of casualties caused by IEDs is 2,716, which accounts for approximately 40% of the total number of victims.

The number of casualties from IEDs will definitely increase, if local people are not informed of the dangers involved. Though AAR has been trying to provide this information, it has turned out to be quite difficult, for the following reasons:

Firstly, IEDs come in such a variety of colors, shapes and mechanisms – with different explosives inside – that it is difficult to generalize about their characteristics. Some are placed inside soda cans or pressure cookers, while others are laid as anti-personnel or anti-tank devices. Others are unexploded ordnance (UXOs) and activated as IEDs.

Secondly, IEDs are easy to create. Almost anyone can make one, because its mechanism is extremely simple. All you need is a power supply, a switch, an ignition device, major explosives, and a container.

Planted in familiar commodities such as soda cans, IEDs are difficult to identify.
   (Copyright Reuters)

Thirdly, the manufacture and use of IEDs is hard to control. Since IEDs are manufactured and used by armed forces, not by official armies, it is extremely difficult to regulate in any legal framework, as in the case in the Convention of the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Antipersonnel Mines and on Their Destruction. However, the international community has not been taking a wait-and-see attitude. In May 2018, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) published United Nations Improvised Explosive Device Disposal Standards, in which they published comprehensive standards such as detailed procedures for disposing of IEDs. Included in the Standards is IED risk education, which should prevent local people from falling victim to IEDs.

Assessment of mine risk education

As a matter of fact, it is very difficult to evaluate how effective mine risk education has been. In terms of landmine clearance, we can measure its success by the amount of land which has become mine-free. In terms of supporting victims, we can assess its success by finding out how many people have become able to walk again, with the help of an artificial leg. In other words, the success of a project can easily be measured and is obvious to everyone.

However, mine risk education cannot be assessed in such a way. Indeed, a certain number of people acquire correct information through our mine risk lectures or workshops, but we cannot expect everyone in the area to practice whatever they have learned; just as there are always some people who cross the street when the light is red at pedestrian crossings, knowing that they should not. Therefore, we cannot guarantee that local people are all free from the threat of landmines. In addition, since IEDs come in many different forms and appearances – and they may not be easily detected – it is very hard to prevent all the possible risks.

In the countries where AAR has been actively involved, people have a general idea about landmines and UXOs, because they grow up with some awareness about their risks. In 2019, AAR conducted a survey in Afghanistan, targeting 100 people older than primary school age, both male and female, and we learned that everyone has a certain amount of knowledge about the shape and the possible risks of landmines and UXOs. They may have acquired the knowledge through lectures given by AAR or through a radio program. Alternatively, they may have learned about mines and UXOs because their relative or neighbor may, unfortunately, have been one of the victims. We can never assess exactly how successfully our activities have contributed to the acquisition of knowledge on the part of local people.

Of course, I am not saying that mine risk education has been of no use. In Syria, one man thanked me, saying that he saved his own life during an air raid, by protecting himself from an explosive, which he had learned in one of the sessions offered by AAR. Also, in Afghanistan and Sudan, it was reported that there were people who successfully saved their lives by taking appropriate action when they detected landmines.

In the countries where AAR has been actively engaged, the local staff and instructors, who are in charge of mine risk education, have been trying their best to eliminate the casualties of landmines. It is with a strong sense of responsibility and passion that they hope that no more people will tragically lose their lives, as some of their fellow citizens have. AAR will continue with its mine risk education for the foreseeable future.

In Afghanistan, after showing a film featuring landmines, an instructor teaches the local people how to protect themselves from them, using a poster that shows the various shapes of landmines.

Seiji Konno from Tokyo Office
Starting in April 2004, KONNO was temporarily assigned to work for the HALO Trust, a British NGO committed to mine clearance for approximately 10 months, where he was engaged in clearing mines and UXOs. After that, he worked for AAR, specializing in mine action, raising public awareness and urgent assistance. He left AAR in March 2008 and acquired qualifications to become a qualified social worker and psychiatric social worker. KONNO resumed working for AAR in February 2018, after having worked for an international NGO, giving assistance to people with disabilities abroad – specializing in domestic welfare issues and supporting children. KONNO is from Ibaraki Prefecture.

Japanese-English translation by Ms. Yoko NATSUME
English editing by Mr. Richard WHALE

This article has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Japan's Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.