In 2005, 84 countries were affected by landmines and unexploded ordnance, which together were killing or injuring as many as 20,000 adults and children annually, according to the Landmine Monitor Report, an initiative providing research for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
That is why in December of 2005, the United Nations General Assembly, intent on drawing awareness to the deadly toll that past conflicts continue to exact in many countries, declared that April 4 of each year would be officially proclaimed and observed as International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. Today marks the day's 5th observance.
Unlike other munitions that are designed to explode on impact, landmines pose a threat to people and remove land from safe, productive activity for years, even decades later. Persistent landmines, whether anti-vehicle or anti-personnel, instill fear in communities, and are a lethal barrier to the provision of humanitarian assistance in post-conflict situations and top long-term development. Most of the countries where casualties are still reported are at peace.
Once planted, landmines don't go away unless they are cleared away at a very high cost, in both money and occasionally in the lives of de-miners as well. But not doing so is even more expensive, and not just in lives lost. Years after a conflict had ended, swaths of productive land, as well as important infrastructure such as canals, roads, and even manufacturing facilities can remain inaccessible due to land mines.
"Mine action" refers to a range of efforts to clear landmines and explosive remnants of war, and to mark and fence off dangerous areas. It also includes assisting survivors of landmine incidents, teaching people how to remain safe in a mine-affected environment, and destroying landmines stockpiled by governments and non-state armed groups.
The United States is proud to be the world’s single largest financial supporter of humanitarian mine action. Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $1.9 billion in humanitarian mine action assistance through dozens of partner organizations in 81 countries.
U.S. support has led to a dramatic reduction in civilian landmine casualties, from as many as 20,000 people of past years to 1,325 reported casualties from all categories of landmines in 2009 according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
By declaring an official observance Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, the United Nations hopes to raise awareness about landmines and progress toward their eradication. We have made significant progress, but more needs to be done.