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.

One Response to “Caught between mines and starvation”

  1. Sandra Says:

    Mock minefield for the UN!

    Thanks for this post. I just read this item in the UN Observer, which sounds like an official UN website:
    “A mock minefield installed on the North Lawn (of UN HQ) to be demined by experts from the Humanitarian Demining Training Centre, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m (April 4). The deminers will explain how mine detectors work and what is involved in removing or destroying landmines.”

    There was also a photographic exhibition to mark the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action on Wednesday, 4 April 2007, opened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

    Surely, was this the best the bleeding-hearts at the UN could do? A mock minefield, indeed!

    I wonder how many thousands of dollars must have been spent in putting up this show for the pampered staffers of the UN HQ to watch and feel sorry about millions of people who live with REAL landmines everyday of the year?

    The World Bank under James Wolfenson used to have a scheme where it insisted its technical staff and managers to go to a Third World village and live there for a few days to get at least a realistic glimpse of what it is like to live amidst poverty and under-development. I am not sure if this is still in operation.

    The least UN HQ could have done was to show a few video films that made in the mine-infested areas of the world, so that the reality of life amidst mines would come through the moving pictures. A photo exhibition is good, but not sufficient.

    And if they are sincere about a world free of landmines, the UN should persuade some of its member states to STOP MAKING THESE PERSONAL KILLERS.

    A mock minefield in New York is not going to solve the problem – it only insuts the men, women and children who live with mines.

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