Landmines are small but deadly weapons that armies use to keep enemy forces away from certain areas. They are buried in the ground and are designed to explode when someone steps on them. The explosion is powerful enough to kill or maim. Many victims are blinded.
Even when the fighting ends, the threat from landmines continues. In more than sixty countries, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed or injured by landmines left behind from previous wars. Millions of landmines today lie scattered in such places as Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Croatia, Mozambique, and Vietnam.
These landmines make it much harder for societies to recover from conflict. They threaten the stability of fragile governments, and hinder the ability of aid workers to do their jobs.
“The good news,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Lincoln Bloomfield, “is that in recent years a lot of work has been done around the world to address this problem, including clearing landmines.”
In 1988, the U.S. helped to launch the first international demining project when teams were sent to Afghanistan. Mines had been placed there during the Soviet invasion and occupation. In 1993, the U.S. established a worldwide humanitarian demining program. Today the U.S. provides assistance to forty nations, attempting to clear landmines from their territory.
The U.S. works with both other governments and private organizations in surveying, marking, and removing minefields. The U.S. also supports mine- risk education and medical care, and retraining for people who are injured.
The U.S. has invested over six-hundred-million dollars since 1993 to reduce the threat from landmines. Progress has been made. It was estimated that in 1993 as many as twenty-six thousand people were being killed or injured by landmines every year. But as Assistant Secretary of State Bloomfield said, “We now think the number is much closer to ten-thousand casualties per year.... That is still ten-thousand too many.”