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Danger in the Earth: Teaching About Landmines

By Elisabeth King

An anti-personnel mine is a "mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity, or contact of a person and which will incapacitate, injure, or kill one or more persons." Unlike other weapons, it is victim-operated. In practice, a landmine works when a person steps on it, triggering the detonator and igniting a highly explosive charge. Metallic fragments, bacteria, earth, and plastic are driven into the victim's body at a speed of approximately 6,800 meters per second. Landmines, designed to injure, usually claim arms, legs, or their victim's sight. Sometimes people die from their landmine injuries.

Landmines were first used on a massive scale in World War II. They have since been used in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Arab-Israeli wars, the 1991 Gulf War, and in a plethora of civil wars around the world. Despite such widespread use, a 1996 Red Cross study that involved military experts examining 26 wars concluded that landmines have never significantly affected the outcome of a war. What they always significantly affect are the lives of their victims.


In many developing countries around the world, landmines have become an obstacle in the path to sustainable development because of their severe economic, social, medical, and environmental consequences. In the economic realm, landmines bar access to infrastructure such as roads and railways and slow post-war reconstruction and the redevelopment of human services. Teachers and healthcare workers, for example, cannot get to work. Students are unable to make their way to school safely and the community's access to natural resources is restricted. At the same time, landmines make fields unsafe for farming, a problem, since many of the most mine-affected countries rely heavily on agriculture. Such countries often become dependent on external aid. The problem is not easy to solve. Landmine clearance is difficult, dangerous, and expensive, especially for a war-torn country.

The medical impact of landmines is also far-reaching. Many landmine survivors are unable to make it to medical facilities, as they are too far away, and die before reaching help. Those that do make it usually require amputations, but many are poorly done, and patients thus require a second amputation. Much blood is needed, and the risk of infections is high. Many materials need to be imported, doctors require special training, and medical infrastructure needs to be improved. The amputations, prosthetics, and other health care required for a landmine survivor are extremely costly, and they are needed for a lifetime.

In addition to the impact on their victims, landmines also have severe environmental consequences. The presence of mines can restrict access to large areas of agricultural land, forcing people to use small tracts of land to earn their livelihoods. The limited productive land that is accessible is over-cultivated, which contributes to long-term underproduction as minerals are depleted from the soil and valuable vegetation is lost. Furthermore, landmines introduce poisonous substances into the environment as their casings erode. In decomposing, these substances can cause many environmental problems because they are often water-soluble, carcinogenic, toxic, and long-lasting.

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