Caught between mines and starvation

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.

Changing climate and moving images

Climate change is suddenly popping out of everywhere. Media outlets that couldn’t discern climate from weather not too long ago are covering the politics, technology, economics — and sometimes, science — of climate change.

We have to thank Al Gore and his Oscar-award winning film, An Inconvenient Truth, for helping climate change to reach that tipping point. For sure, it has been building up for years, but it took moving images to really push it up the agenda.

While the political stature of its ‘star’ — and now, the Oscar – takes this film to a league of its own, it’s not the only global documentary about this important topic. In recent years, a number of factual and make-belief films have been made with climate change as their principal theme.

No wonder Hollywood is attracted to this subject – it offers the ultimate planetary disaster, even if it unfolds slowly over decades. That’s not a major constraint in the land of make-belief: in The Day After Tomorrow (2004), director Roland Emmerich just accelerated natural climatic processes to happen within weeks – with dramatic results for his story (and box office).

It may be convenient to take such liberties with the truth in fiction, but delivering factual and credible content involves bigger challenges. That requires balancing facts, opinions and interpretations while engaging today’s easily distracted audiences. The task becomes harder when the subject is as technical as climate change.

I recently wrote a review of two major climate change documentaries, both released last year: An Inconvenient Truth, and The Great Warming.

Read the full review on TVE Asia Pacific website

One Planet’s Climate Challenge on BBC World

Climate Challenge is a new, weekly, 6-part series coproduced by our Geneva-based partner and UK partner, One Planet Pictures. It begins broadcasting on BBC World from Wednesday, 4 April 2007.

The series goes local and global to find here-and-now answers to climate change. It makes the point: in the fight against global warming, developed and developing countries must work hand-in-hand to find viable solutions for all.


Here’s the blurb from One Planet Pictures website:

So it’s official. Even President Bush in his latest State of the Union Report has acknowledged that global warming is happening. The scientists of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say that only swingeing cuts in the release of greenhouse gases can save our planet from becoming a Venusian hothouse.

But how can that be achieved when even the modest Kyoto targets are not being met by most rich countries? And when the world’s most populous countries are expanding their energy requirements at an unprecedented rate? What can be done to head off a catastrophe?

In Climate Challenge, One Planet Pictures’ film-makers focus on some of the most promising approaches to turning down the global thermostat. Climate Challenge goes local and global in search for solutions that won’t put a break on economic growth

The series will be distributed by TVE Asia Pacific after its initial run on BBC World.

For broadcast times, see website or checkout BBC World programme schedule

BBC World is the commercially-operated international broadcasting arm of the BBC.