International focus: landmines

Have you ever scratched your head and wondered if anybody in Calgary is working on the issue of landmines? For all you who have, the answer is yes. Mines Action Canada, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian Red Cross run a program called Youth Mine Action Ambassador Program, and I am the Calgary representative.


Through the program, nine youth ambassadors, including myself, travelled to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina this July to study mine action in those countries. During our study tour, we met with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Croatian Mine Action Centre, Norwegian Peoples’ Aid (the only ngo in Croatia working on mine clearance) and dok-ing (a mine action organization and demining equipment manufacturer). We also had the privilege to meet Dijana Plestina, the wife of the Croatian Prime Minister, and the Canadian military unit of sfor, the Stabilization Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Bihac, Bosnia.


A significant component of mine action is minefield marking. Although it is an important aspect of sfor involvement, it is far from adequate in many countries. For example, many minefields have no marking whatsoever, no indication they might be dangerous.


In Bosnia, I watched a mother, her children and a dog live, work, and play in a house completely surrounded by minefields. One careless step could change their lives forever. Canadian sfor Sergeant Jason Gaab also explained farmers will sometimes remove the metal signs and wooden posts (used to secure the mine tape) even when minefields are marked, because they require materials for their farms.


Solutions to this problem and others in mine action need to be found, and may be further researched under the Canadian Appropriate Technologies in Mine Action Competition, or catimac, at www.minesactioncanada.com/competition/home/index.cfm?lang=e.


You might be wondering why the issue of landmines should be taken so seriously. Reason lies in the fact that landmines are not an isolated issue, they affect almost every aspect of a country plagued by them, from economic development and political status, to the social and psychological condition of the people.


The economy is affected due to valuable agricultural land being mined or believed to be mined, and the pace of mine clearance can seem glacial when a person’s livelihood is at stake. Even a rumoured landmine can stop a farmer from being able to cultivate his or her land and thus become unable to support him or herself.


Mine accidents still occur in over 80 countries worldwide, often those least financially able to deal with them. Even if states like China-who still produce landmines-stopped production, mines would continue to destroy lives for decades, long after the conflicts that created them are over.


One must also remember a person surviving a mine accident will endure horrific social, psychological and medical problems for the rest of their lives. Many undergo amputations, and few have the luxury of a prosthetic. Mines mutilate hands, arms, legs and feet. They can blind, deafen and cause deformation of the face. Social ostracism prevails and many will be unable to support themselves.


However, the global landmine crisis is solvable.


The Ottawa Convention to Ban Landmines, once ratified, dictates that signatory countries must immediately stop producing anti-personnelmines, destroy their stockpiles, cease all imports or exports of mines and begin the process of mine clearance. According to the treaty, mine clearance should be completed within 10 years, though this is a colossal task for some countries. To date there are 136 states party to the treaty, and the number of ratified countries is increasing.


For the next seven months, I will be facilitating community action and awareness of landmine issues, which offer many opportunities to volunteer and participate in related events and activities. Look forward to landmine presenters’ training in October, a tour of the Canadian Centre for Mine Action Technology, landmine presentations in your classrooms, volunteer opportunities to help organize a global issues symposium for youth (centred around refugees, landmines and skills training), a night of 1,000 dinners fundraiser, movie screenings and much more.


"If you survived the war, try to survive the peace." The Red Cross saying reminds us that the danger for civilians remains long after the danger for armies subsides.


Call 541–6107 or e-mail calgary@dangermines.ca for further information and volunteer opportunities.


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