April 4th marked International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, a time to remember the deadly threat land mines pose to millions of people in at least seventy-eight countries around the world. According to the United Nations, landmines and explosive remnants of war kill or injure thousands people each year. The UN Children’s Fund says that more than one-third of all civilian mine casualties are children.
No people know better the tragic effects of landmines than the people of Afghanistan. During the past two decades, more than seventy-thousand Afghans have been killed or wounded by mines or unexploded ordinance. According to Dr. Mohammed Reza, Program Director of the UN Mine Action Center for Afghanistan, some sixty Afghan people die or are injured by these weapons each month. “We’re talking about people who’ve come [home] after years of being refugees,” said Dr. Reza. “Even the government ministries – for example, the Ministry of Public Works, if they want to build roads, or the Ministry of Energy if they want to bring electricity to a city – they make mistakes and they do not see the mines.” Dr. Reza says the mines are a serious obstacle to Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development.
The United States has been working since 1988 to help the Afghan people rid themselves of this deadly menace and recover from its terrible effects. In 1993, the U.S. established the inter-agency U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program, the largest of its kind in the world. The U.S. has invested over one-billion two-hundred-million dollars to clear land mines, foster mine risk education, render assistance to mine survivors, train foreign de-miners and advance mine clearance techniques. U.S. Assistance has helped Costa Rica, Djibouti, Guatemala, Honduras, Kosovo, Macedonia, Namibia, and Suriname to become free from the deadly toll of mines.
In a statement, the U.S. State Department said, “Our efforts are reflected in a major decrease in the number of landmine and explosive remnants of war casualties around the word. From an estimated twenty-six-thousand casualties four years ago, five-thousand-seven-hundred-fifty-one were reported worldwide in 2006. By working together, the United States, other donors, and the mine action community can continue working toward an ‘impact free’ world.”