Sunday, October 23, 2011

On land mines

Back in the day, when wars were considered something you could win, one of the techniques developed to maim as many as possible, and thus come closer to the goal - "winning" - was to dig a tunnel under your enemy's fortification and then release all hell by collapsing the tunnel. Mining. With time and technology these tunnels were collapsed by use of explosives, causing even more death and destruction. More "winning". The tactic of literally pulling the ground out from under an enemy's feet was dangerous, and efficient. For a hauntingly gruesome and beautiful description of the life of a World War One miner, I recommend Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong. It's a terrible and fantastic book, but not for the fainthearted.

Inspired by the above described techniques, another weapon was created. Land mines are explosive devices, usually triggered by weight. They are designed to damage a target, a target that doesn't necessarily have to be human, but it often is. Because, the real problem with land mines isn't the destruction they cause during wars - wars have so much destruction going on anyway, that whether you're killed by a gun, a bomb or a land mine doesn't make much of a difference. The problem with land mines is that they are often left behind long after the war ends. They can lie idle for years, completely or partially hidden, and still function as intended once that unfortunate someone steps on the trigger.

A left-behind land mine thus becomes what one fancily calls an "indiscriminate weapon" - lack of discrimination may sound nice - but when it means that it as readily kills a child as soldiers in an armed car, it is obviously not a good thing. Land mines can injure and kill civilians long after the conflict for which it was intended for ended. Around 2000 people, many of them children, are injured in land mine accidents every single month, many of them fatally.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is - as the name implies - working towards a ban of landmines. Since this coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) was established in 1992, it has achieved incredible success, for instance by bringing about an international treaty (the Ottawa Treaty) to ban anti-personnel land mines - a treaty with 157 members as of today - for which the ICBL and its founder Jody Williams received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.

As mentioned, however, banning the current use of mines isn't sufficient. Old ones still cause destruction. Thus an important part of the work against land mines internationally is demining. One of the NGOs heavily involved in this is the Norwegian People's Aid.

Each year since 1974, the Norwegian Broadcasting Company (NRK) holds a fundraiser for a charity. It is said to be the world's largest fundraiser, in the number of participants (around 100 000 volunteer, and about half of the population contribute with money) , and in the per capita funds raised. This year, the charity of choice is the Norwegian People's Aid.

I often wish I was better at doing something for all the causes I think so much about, so this year I signed up as a volunteer. It's not much - I get to spend two hours of my life for a clearer conscience - but it is a start. In addition I'd like to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to do a little something too. If you're in Norway, it's simple. Every krone helps, so make sure to donate whatever you can spare when the doorbell rings later today. If you're not in Norway, though, there is still a lot you can do. Donations are of course also welcome from abroad, or to other charities supporting the same cause. But perhaps equally important is awareness. Is your country a party to the Ottawa Treaty? Find out - and if not - why not? Could you contact your authorities and ask? Encourage them, perhaps, to consider whether land mines is important enough in wars, to risk civilian lives for decades after peace is achieved? Sign a petition (there are plenty online)? Ask your friends to consider doing so as well? If sufficiently many of us start asking those kind of questions, there is a realistic opportunity that we can make a real difference.

It is, after all, not an unlikely possibility that by universializing the land mine ban and assuring effective demining, that we can rid the world of this atrocity altogether. This is a war we can win.

1 comment:

Minds Clearing Land Mines said...

Locating land mines once a conflict has ended remains a challenge. No one detection mode works in all situations. Thus, new detection methods still are needed. To share an idea or read about recent technology, go to the mindsclearinglandmines Wordpress blog. (

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