Landmines and Un-Exploded Ordinances have become the greatest thereat to Environment and Eco-System

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Introduction

Landmines and Un-Exploded Ordinances (UXO) have certainly become threatening problem which affect tremendously the environment and human beings.  It has negative impacts on the socio economical developments too.  Huge usage of chemical weapons during World War I had sever and long lasting damage to the forest, agricultural lands especially in Belgium and France. The hazard vastly increased after World War II.  The statistics illustrate that there are between 60 to 110 million mines buried around the world.

 According to UNDP’s statistics, nearly 78 nations have been affected by landmines and about 85 by Explosive Remnants of War (ERW). An estimate shows that there are 500,000 landmine and ERW survivors today and three-quarters of them are civilians. Among them thirty-four percent of civilian casualties are children and nearly all of them are boys. The boys between 5 and 14 are particularly the high-risk group. In some severely affected countries, children were the majority of casualties.  Example: 59 % in Afghanistan, 53% in Nepal, and 66% in Somalia.

 The most prominent environmental impact of landmines and UXO are loss of human being, access denial to vital resources such as agricultural lands, forest and natural water sources and loss of biodiversity. It has been studied that in the past half-centuries they also cause physical and emotional injuries to human beings, displacements of the communities and individuals, obstacles in agriculture, soil degradation, deforestation and pollution.  

 What is Landmine? Landmine is device usually a weight-triggered explosive device which is intended to damage its target via blast and or flying fragments. They are mainly Anti-personnel mines and Anti-tank mines.  They are designed to create defensive barriers such as protecting the borders from infiltration by the enemies and to act as passive area-denial weapons in order to reject assess to territory, resources or facilities when active defense of the area is not possible.  They are laid on ground or fixed/ placed above ground on trees. 

 US Department of Defense 2005 defines that unexploded ordinance is UXO which has been primed, fused, armed or otherwise prepared for action, and which has been fired, dropped, launched, projected, or placed in such a manner as to constitute a hazard to operations, installations, personnel, or material and remains unexploded either by malfunction or design or for any other cause.

 In reality enemies take precautions from the mine targets and UXO as they are knowledgeable on the weapons and its mechanisms.  And innocent people and flora and fauna are easily trapped by these to a greatest extent.  This situation exists almost in all war affected countries. 

 Since 1999, humanitarian demining agencies cleared more than 4 million antipersonnel mines, 1 million anti-vehicle mines and 8 million items of unexploded ordnance from over one billion square meters of land for safe use through operations.  In 2006 alone, 217,000 antipersonnel mines were cleared from 450 square kilometers of contaminated land.

Access denial to vital resources and adverse effect on development:

Many of the mine-affected countries’ livelihoods depend on framing and agricultural activities.  The presence of mines and UXO prevent them from accessing to those facilities and resources.  Forests often become the only source of fuel and food and this result in reduction of resources such as deforestation and destruction of biological diversity. When people are driven off from their most productive agricultural land they may be forced to depend on a smaller area of land for survival. This land may be over-cultivated and washed-out of its mineral deposits. It leads to erosion, less yield and eventually destroys the complex ecosystems

 For e.g. in Sri Lanka, 730 villages were identified as contaminated by mines and UXOs and 202 square Km of agricultural lands in the war affected areas especially in the North and East, were abandoned and people lost their livelihoods.  The land mine impact assessment survey conducted by Sri Lanka National Steering Committee for Mine Action in 2006 states that there are still over one million land mines contaminated in the area.  It had negative impact on their house hold food security.  This situation made the people to be dependent on external food aid and other forms of international assistance.  Further more only limited areas are cleared for resettlement/ relocations as clearing agencies have limited resources.  A statistics of Viet Nam says, 6.6 million acres of land are contaminated by UXO. 

 Nearly three decades of war left Cambodia as one of the countries severely affected by landmines and ERW. Cambodia is an agricultural country and 85% of the Cambodians are engaged on agriculture for their livelihoods. However many part of the lands are contaminated with mines and UXO and it prevented from livelihood activities, prevent access to natural resources.  It drives them into more marginal and fragile environments.

 Angola is another country heavily contaminated with landmines and ERW, including cluster munitions remnants. More than four decades of armed conflict led the country to be contaminated with 40 different types of mines from 15 countries (the clearance survey indicates).  The Environmental and Social Management Framework Final Report concludes that the presence of landmines throughout the country inhibits access to land and is an environmental limitation that undermines development. A study of World Bank on the economic impact of landmines illustrate that land mines affected the overall economy of the country.

Loss of biodiversity:

There are no exact numerical data on the amount of animals that are injured or killed from landmines, but it is found thought disappearance of endangered species.  In Croatia it is reported that 4 per cent of the rare European bears were killed by landmines. Elephants, antelopes, deer and tigers got killed in Angola, Sri Lanka, Burma, Congo and Bosnia. Since the end of the war in 2002, elephants have begun to go back to the Luiana Partial Reserve in Angola’s sparsely populated Kuando-Kubango province.  When the initial migration took place a number of elephants had lost their trunks and legs by mines, condemning the animals to agonizing deaths.

Landmines introduce poisonous substances into the environment as their casings erode. Explosives commonly used in landmines, such as trinitrotoluene (TNT), seep into the soil and  the decomposition of these substances cause many environmental problems as they are often water soluble, carcinogenic, toxic, and long-lasting. When Landmines explode they scatter debris.  It destroys surrounding vegetation and soil composition and. substantially decreases the productivity of agricultural land. It also leads to soil erosion, water pollution and affect water habitats.  A study shows that detonation of UXO drastically reduced soil productivity in Quang Tri, the province of Viet Nam and the rice production per hectare has decreased by 50 percent in this area. Landmines, they represent a very serious, long-term toxic hazard to human health.

 Mitigation Methods

Today many de-mining organizations are finding the way to accelerate de-mining process though they clear the lands for safe mobility, un-doubtfully damage the environment and eco system through removal of vegetation.  It is a  biggest challenges faced by the mine-action community is the balancing act of removing mines from the ground while simultaneously protecting the contaminated soil from further damage.

 The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is a global network in over 90 countries that works for a world free of antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions.  The Ottawa Treaty or the Mine Ban Treaty, formally the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, completely bans all anti-personnel landmines.  As of April 2010, there were 156 States Parties to the treaty. Two states have signed but not yet ratified while thirty-seven states are non-signatories to the Convention, making a total of 39 states not party.

 It is notable that non-signatories stockpile over 160 million anti-personnel mines, the majority held by just 6 countries.  The figure illustrates that China is the leading country.

Country Estimated landmine stockpile(in millions)
South Korea 2
India 4-5
Albania 2.2
USA 11.3
Russia 60-70
China 110

Source: http://members.iinet.net.au/~pictim/mines/history/history.html

It is an obligation of all states to safeguard the environment not only from other pollutions, damages.  The 39 states also should come forward or forced to come forward to sign and rectify Ottawa Treaty. 

Reference:

http://www.icbl.org/index.php/icbl/Problem

http://www.mineaction.org/

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One Response to “Landmines and Un-Exploded Ordinances have become the greatest thereat to Environment and Eco-System”

  1. khan Says:

    The issue you raised is really serious. Problems like water pollution, or air pollution usually cant harm the living beings so directly, instantly and fatally as hidden land mines. While we discuss other forms of pollution, we normally forget about such rare but disastrous type of soil pollution and it remains covered. I believe such issues should be given same attention as other environmental issues, because it threatens the freedom of living fearlessly.

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