Landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) have claimed thousands of lives, or limbs, over the past two decades. At least 481 landmine and ERW casualties (108 deaths and 373 injuries) - over half of them children - were reported to the Mine Action Center of Afghanistan (MACCA) in 2009. (Photo: Salih/IRIN)
“I was irrigating my land when I stepped on it… I heard a huge bang which knocked me over,” said Amanullah, a 26-year-old landmine victim from Nawzad District, Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan.
Doctors managed to save his life but he lost both legs.
“It makes me very sad when I think who is going to tend to my fields and feed my family,” he said.
Mine blasts are common in volatile districts of Helmand where Taliban insurgents and pro-government forces have clashed fiercely in the past few years.
No one knows where landmines are planted, and each blast sends shockwaves of fear through the community, local people say.
“These mines and bombs have tormented our village because people are afraid to plough their land or walk freely in the area,” said Haji Abdul Hamid, a tribal elder in Nawzad.
Downward trend in casualties
Landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) have claimed thousands of lives, or limbs, over the past two decades.
At least 481 landmine and ERW casualties (108 deaths and 373 injuries) - over half of them children - were reported to the Mine Action Center of Afghanistan (MACCA) in 2009.
Between 1999 and 2008 Afghanistan had the highest number of landmine casualties (12,069) in the world, according to the Landmine Monitor Report 2009.
The country also had the highest number of casualties (51) among mine-clearing teams in 2008.
However, demining operations have cleared large areas of landmines and ERW and this, combined with increased public awareness, has reduced the number of victims by over 70 percent since 2001 when 2,027 casualties were reported, MACCA said.
A signatory to the Ottawa Treaty (Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines), the Afghan government says it has no stockpile of landmines.
The country aims to clear all landmines by 2013, but whether this target is achieved will depend on donor funding of demining operations, security, and the commitment of the warring sides not to plant new mines, demining agencies say.
“We appreciate the ways in which many mine action donors responded to the funding shortfall we announced in 2009. However, the reality is that the Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan is still chronically underfunded for the work that needs to be done to achieve the targets of the Afghan Compact and the Mine Ban Treaty,” Haider Reza, programme director of MACCA, told IRIN.
The Interior Ministry, meanwhile, has accused Taliban insurgents of planting new landmines in some parts of the country in a bid to thwart pro-government Afghan and foreign troops.
The insurgents have also been planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), killed and wounded hundreds of civilians in 2009.
MACCA says demining agencies do not clear IEDs in support of the government and international forces but only remove landmines and ERW.