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Dramatic rise in landmine casualties after pandemic disrupts clearance

An afghan security official collects mines and ammunition northeast of Herat, Afghanistan, 27 April 2021. Mine clearance officials say more than 80 percent of Herat has been cleared of mines and ammunition left over from the war, and the process continues. (Keystone/EPA/Jalil Rezayee)

Deaths and injuries from exploded landmines rose significantly last year partly due to disruption of clearance efforts caused by the pandemic, a new report from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) released Wednesday has revealed.

Over 7,000 casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war were recorded across 54 countries and areas in 2020 – up 20 per cent from 5,853 the previous year. Syria was the country with the highest number of cases recorded, followed by Afghanistan. 80 per cent of all casualties were civilians, and at least half of those killed or injured were children.

“The continued high number of casualties and disappointingly slow clearance outputs highlight serious and persistent challenges to treaty implementation,” said Marion Loddo, an editor of the Landmine Monitor 2021 Report. “If we are to reach a mine-free world, states must redouble their efforts toward speedy implementation of their obligations and a much more efficient distribution of resources among all affected states and territories.”

The report revealed how pandemic disruption to mine action efforts drove up casualties and deaths. The spread of Covid-19 led to the suspension of mine clearance and face-to-face mine risk education services in countries across the world. The pandemic also brought new challenges in accessing and assisting victims.

An increase in armed conflict also led to the continued use of antipersonnel mines – mines that detonate due to human contact – in a number of countries. Myanmar government forces used mines in 2020, while use by non-state armed groups was also recorded in Myanmar as well as Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan. There were also allegations of new landmine use during the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

“More people were killed and wounded by landmines due to a few countries with ongoing conflicts, but the needs of victims are not being met globally,” said Loren Persi, the report's impact editor. “Progress in assistance slowed in many countries, and pandemic restrictions mean that greater support must be given through adequate health, rehabilitation, and livelihoods.”

Antipersonnel landmines designed to be exploded by human contact, including improvised explosive devices (IEDs), are banned under the Mine Ban Treaty, which came into international law in 1999. The treaty currently has 164 signatory states, including all NATO members apart from the United States, which has not joined the treaty.

The Treaty comprehensively bans the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of antipersonnel mines, and requires signatory states to destroy their stockpiles and clear all mined areas as well as assist landmine survivors.

Under the Mine Ban Treaty, 94 states parties have destroyed a total of more than 55 million landmines from their arsenals, most recently Chile, the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka, which completed the destruction of its landmine stockpile in 2021. However, according to the report, at least 60 countries and other areas are known to be contaminated by antipersonnel mines, including 33 treaty members such as Greece and Ukraine.

“New use of antipersonnel mines by states remains relatively rare and only by one state outside the treaty this year,” said Mark Hiznay, ban policy editor of the report. “However ongoing use of mines by non-state armed groups is particularly worrisome and more can be done to prevent anyone from using these weapons,” he added.

The report from the ICBL, a global coalition of non-governmental organisations that received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, will be presented at the Mine Ban Treaty's annual meeting in The Hague which opens November 15.