Legacy of deaths due to landmines

KABUL, Afghanistan — Sitting in the shade of a tree in the Kabul children’s hospital, Karimullah recalls the exact moment his young son was injured in a mine blast.


Two weeks earlier, the boy had been playing with other children in their village in the Qara Bagh district of Ghazni province, south of the Afghan capital, when Karimullah heard a loud explosion and rushed to the scene.

“When we got there, four children were dead and 10 others were injured, including my son,” Karimullah said. His son’s injuries were so serious that he had to come to the capital for treatment.

“The mine was left over from the civil war in the 1990s,” he said, adding that despite several similar explosions in the area, local officials had done little to address the menace.

Afghanistan’s landmine legacy dates from the arrival of Soviet forces in 1979. Defense ministry spokesman Gen. Zaher Azimi said the mines were planted in many areas, particularly around military camps and checkpoints.

After the Soviets left in 1989, more mines were planted by both sides of the civil war that followed, making Afghanistan one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.

Many minefields were left unmarked and forgotten. Sometimes, anti-personnel and anti-tank mines were dug up and moved for reuse in new conflicts. Meanwhile, unexploded ordinance from more than three decades of conflict also pose a serious threat.

During the latest conflict, in addition to planting landmines, the Taliban have made extensive use of improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs, adding to the existing threat.

Dayem Kakar, the head of Afghanistan’s Natural Disaster Management Authority, the agency charged with landmine removal, says 1 million people have been killed or disabled by the hidden weapons over the past three decades of war. An additional 3 million are still at risk from living near minefields.

Mohammed Haidar Reza, head of the United Nations’ Mine Action Center for Afghanistan, said that although the number of casualties had fallen over the years, there was no prospect of the landmine threat being eliminated in the foreseeable future.

Landmines and IEDs, are responsible for an average of 52 casualties per month, according to the center. Although foreign donors have contributed around $700 million to mine-removal projects, Reza says more financial support is needed to finance the 11 mine-clearing agencies currently working in Afghanistan and employing nearly 14,000 people.

Mohammad Shahab Hakimi, director of the Mine Detection Dog Center, said 70 percent of the 16,000 known mine fields have been cleared, with a total of 2 million mines defused so far. In the process 1,200 mine-clearance workers have been killed or injured.

“In some parts of the country, we’re unable to clear minefields because of warfare or lack of security,” he said. “In addition, mines have been re-planted in areas that have already been cleared.”

• Faramarz is a reporter in Afghanistan who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict.


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