Education And Debate

Antipersonnel landmines: facts, fictions, and priorities

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 29 November 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:1453
  1. Chris Giannou, medical coordinator of ICRC campaign to ban antipersonnel minesa
  1. a Division of Health Operations, International Committee of the Red Cross, CH 1202 Geneva, Switzerland


    Over 100 million mines are buried in over 70 countries. Most victims are civilians. A lack of money prevents us adequately dealing with the problems created by antipersonnel mines. These are all fictions. What then are the facts?

    Firstly, no one knows how many anti-tank or antipersonnel landmines there are in the old and current battlefields of the world, together with unexploded cluster bombs and other ordnance—all a danger to non-combatants. Yet the absolute number of mines is of little consequence. Whether a square kilometre of rural Angola contains 10 mines, 10 000, or 10 000 000 is not important: it is one square kilometre of farmland that cannot be used to grow crops to feed families. That is what is important.

    Secondly, during most contemporary conflicts most victims of antipersonnel mines are military; some casualties, to varying degrees in different countries, are civilians. After a conflict is over, however, most if not all mine victims are civilians and those engaged in clearing mines.

    Thirdly, it is not simply a lack of money that prevents us dealing with the problems caused by mines. To begin with we do not know the full extent of the problem to solve in any given country. These problems are so wide ranging, they need an equally wide ranging approach.

    A pandemic of landmine injuries

    Antipersonnel mines have disabled individuals, handicapped families, and mutilated entire societies. Their effects are widespread and continue long after a conflict has ended. The mining of agricultural land results in a severe loss of income for farmers; many families go into debt to pay for medical care for a wounded …

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