Today, April 4, is being observed worldwide as Mine Action Day.
The UN General Assembly declared the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, which was first observed in 2006.
Mine Action says on its website:“Landmines and explosive remnants of war continue to kill or injure as many as 15,000 people a year. The overwhelming majority are civilians who trigger these devices years or even decades after a conflict ends. In some countries, such as Afghanistan, the majority of victims are under the age of 18.
Some progress has been made. Mine action programmes and the anti-personnel mine-ban treaty or “Ottawa Convention,” have contributed to a reduction in the annual number of casualties from an estimated 26,000 10 years ago to between 15,000 and 20,000 today.
But not nearly enough. I remember a short video film I watched during my first visit to Cambodia in mid 1996. After 30 years of civil war, Cambodia was left with a deadly legacy of between 4 and 6 million landmines – nobody knows quite how many. And progress has been slow to detect, deactivate and remove these millions of death-traps lying all around in this one of the poorest countries in Asia.
Our friends at the Women’s Media Centre of Cambodia, a media advocacy group run by women, showed me a campaign video they had made advocating mine action. Used for screenings at key UN meetings in Geneva and New York, it showed the plight of poor Cambodians, especially women and children, who have no choice but to live and work with landmine hazards.
Sorry, a decade later I can’t recall the title of this film. A Google search didn’t bring up any links either. But there was a sequence that I remember well.
In rural Cambodia, some women spoke their mind about the many hazards that surround them, small arms and landmines being just two of them.
What’s our choice here, one woman asked. “Everytime we step out of our homes and go to the fields, we can get blown up by a landmine. Yet if we stay at home, we will starve to death.”
She’s not alone. Millions of people – women, children and men – across the global South face this reality everyday. The men in suits in Geneva and New York, who issue lofty statements on mine action from the safety of their glasshouses, need to be aware of this stark choice.
Note: Women’s Media Centre in Cambodia does some good work. At the time we worked with them, they were running an FM radio station, producing lots of videos, and training Cambodian women to use media to support development and personal advancement.