10/07/2013 02:26 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

The War Against Landmines Goes On

Maarten Boersema

It is a tragic fact that approximately 80 percent of those affected by landmines are innocent civilians, and of these many are women, children and the elderly. Postwar landmines linger on for decades and are there to remind later generations of conflicts in which they played no part, often paying with their lives. As well as their lethal impact, leftover landmines are a barrier to development and economic growth. They restrict movement and deter farming and other productive activities. The Landmine Report of 2008 records that mine deaths and injuries over the past decades now total in the hundreds of thousands. Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor (LCMM) records that as of September 2010, 66 states, as well as seven areas not internationally recognized, were confirmed or suspected to be mine-affected.

Cambodia for instance has a serious problem with some estimates running as high as 10 million mines (in a country of almost 15 million people). The country suffered three solid decades of war and is also littered with other kinds of unexploded ordinance (UXO) left over from half a million tons of bombs dropped in the late '60s and early '70s. This legacy had taken a severe toll on the people; some 40,000 live as amputees, one of the highest rates in the world. The good news however, is that due to landmine clearance efforts over the years, mines are a problem today only in certain areas of the country.

Angola by comparison is recorded to have a landmine count of 10 to 20 million, equating a devastating one to two landmines for every person in the country with landmine contamination incapacitating development over large areas. U.N. estimates put the number of Angolan amputees resulting from the sleeping killers at 70,000.

There is hope however. APOPO uses existing demining technology as well as its innovative Mine Detection Rats (MDRs) to fulfill its mission of a mine free world. It is a long slow process, but not a fruitless one. In Mozambique, a country rendered one of the poorest in Africa after 30 years of civil war, APOPO has found and destroyed over 2,500 landmines, 1,000+ Explosive Remnants of War (ERWs) and 13,051 Small Arms and Ammunitions (SAA). The major triumph is that almost 8 million square meters of land has been given back to the local communities and is now being used for farming and other productive and economic activities. Roads, footpaths, farmer's fields surrounding houses and schools to name a few, are now safer. Food, water and other basic needs are now accessible and movement less inhibited.

In Thailand, APOPO has been working with Thailand Mine Action Center (TMAC), the Humanitarian Mine Action Units (HMAUs) and the national NGOs on the development and implementation of a detailed land release concept since 2011. This exercise allows for the efficient release of land through survey, and minimizes the use of scarce and expensive mine clearance equipment in areas that later turn out to be mine-free. Over 87,000,000 square meters of land has been declared mine free and given back to the community, saving considerable time, effort and money that would have been used for unnecessary landmine clearance. In Cambodia, a partnership between APOPO and the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) last year (2012) worked towards surveying land through non-technical survey. Over 135 million square meters of land was surveyed and a continuation is anticipated, subject to funding.

APOPO's Mine Detection Rats
complement Norwegian People's Aid (NPA)'s survey and clearance capacities in Angola, the third worst hit country in the world. Over the next couple of years these joint efforts are expected to considerably reduce the impact from these landmines, in a cost-effective way. The magnitude of the problem might significantly slow down this process, but since one MDR can clear up to 400 square meters per day, the future looks very bright. There are currently 28 Mine Detection Rats deployed to Angola, and going by the outstanding results in Mozambique, chances are that full clearance will most probably happen, sooner than we think! You can be a part of saving lives with us here.