4 April 2006 From the front line of the battle against the deadly legacy of landmines in Iraq and Sudan to command offices throughout the world, the United Nations today marked the first International Day dedicated to curbing the scourge with calls for a universal ban and pleas for greater donor support in cleaning up these remnants of war.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) noted that from 3,000 to 4,000 children alone are killed or wounded by mines every year, with the countries most affected including Angola, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Decades after conflicts have receded, these invisible killers lie silently in the ground, waiting to murder and maim. Through them, 20th century battles claim 21st century victims, with new casualties added every hour,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message on International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.
“The goal of a world without landmines and explosive remnants of war appears achievable in years, not decades as we used to think,” he added, stressing the vital importance of the 1997 treaty banning anti-personnel landmines, which has 150 State Parties.
“But to realize this ideal, every one of us – donors, the general public and mine-affected countries – must focus our energies, and our imaginations, on the cause of mine clearance. Having been so effective in laying mines, we must now become even better at clearing them. Each mine cleared may mean a life saved,” he declared, calling on governments to ratify the treaty.
“The message is clear and must be heard: landmines have no place in any civilized society,” he added.
In the heart of the battle in Iraq, the UN Assistance Mission there (UNAMI) noted the special meaning the day had for the inhabitants of the war-torn country.
“Not only do they face the challenge of living in a highly volatile security situation, they also live amidst one of the greatest concentrations of landmines, unexploded ordnance and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) in the world, presenting a threat to their lives and a barrier to reconstruction efforts,” it said.
Moreover, decades of war and conflict have left Iraq with a serious contamination problem of ERW, some containing depleted uranium. “Not only are civilians at risk of losing their lives or a limb due to mines and ERW, but contamination also poses major challenges to the implementation of relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development projects,” Mr. Annan’s Deputy Special representative Staffan de Mistura said.
In Sudan, too, where an accord last year ended two decades of vicious civil war in the south, the UN is facing similar problems as it seeks to help some 4.5 million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) return to their homes.
“Without de-mining of return routes and communities, refugees and IDPs will not be able to come back or resume their life,” Mr. Annan’s Deputy Special Representative Manuel Aranda da Silva said. “Without de-mining, reconstruction of roads, schools, hospitals and any other post-war recovery and development project cannot be implemented.”
More than 7,000 kilometres of roads still need to be verified and cleared.
From its headquarters in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) underlined the enormous problems mines and ERW pose for its work, noting that there were 84 countries in the world affected by them, singling out South Sudan as a prime example.
“UNHCR is trying to get more involved in mine action as this is key to our programme on return to south Sudan,” said Harry Leefe, Mine Action Focal Point for the agency. “South Sudan is in a way ‘competing’ with places such as Afghanistan and Cambodia where the mine problem is also huge. So donors do not necessarily see mine activities as a priority in south Sudan, but they are crucial.”