Landmines have been called “weapons of mass destruction in slow motion” and “devils in the dirt.” Long after conflicts have ended, landmines continue to maim, and they do so indiscriminately. They do not distinguish the footfalls of a combatant from the footfalls of a farmer plowing his field, or of a woman collecting firewood, or of a child playing innocently with a colorful “toy” he or she has found.
Casualties number in the hundreds of thousands, although the number of new casualties has been decreasing each year since the signing of the Landmine Ban Treaty (formally titled the “Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction”) in 1997 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and its founding coordinator, Jody Williams, were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for their efforts, and as of April 2010, 156 states had signed the treaty.
However, the weapons are still claiming new victims. In recent years, there have even been casualties from mines laid as far back as World War II. According to United Nations estimates, at least 100 million unexploded mines still lurk under the ground across the landscapes of 64 countries.
“The great majority of modern conflicts are now internal rather than international: they are civil wars, struggles for independence, ethnic and racial ‘cleansings,’ terrorist campaigns,” Gino Strada, MD, co-founder of the Italian-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Emergency, says, as reported by PBS (www.pbs.org/pov/afghanistanyear1380/legacy_feature02.php). The NGO provides medical aid in several war-torn countries.
Landmines were initially used to target and terrorize large civilian groups to deprive them of access to water resources, wood, pathways, and even burial grounds, instead of to channel enemy troop movements or to protect key installations, Strada points out.
Suffering caused by anti-personnel mines is particularly horrific, and war surgeons consider them among the worst injuries they have to treat, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) points out (www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/misc/mines-fac-cartagena-021109.htm). “When a person steps on a buried anti-personnel mine, the detonation often rips off one or both of his or her legs and drives soil, grass, gravel, metal and plastic fragments of the mine casing, pieces of shoe, and shattered bone up into the muscles and lower parts of the body. If they explode while being handled, mines can blow off fingers, hands, arms, or parts of the face. They can also blind their victims or cause injuries to the abdomen, chest and spine.” Survivors typically require limb amputation, multiple operations, and lengthy physical rehabilitation. Often victims are permanently disabled and their families also suffer, especially if they are economically dependent on the survivor, the ICRC adds.
A large number of the landmine-polluted countries are developing nations, underscoring the need for appropriate technologies to aid survivors, such as the CIR-Wu Casting System.
Editor’s note: for a detailed discussion of the CIR-Wu Casting System, read “Sustainable O&P Fabrication for Developing Countries,” in the February 2011 issue of The O&P EDGE.
Miki Fairley is a freelance writer based in southwest Colorado. She can be reached at