Landmines, UXO kill, maim hundreds in 2007

Landmines, unexploded ordnance (UXO) and abandoned explosive ordnance (AXO) killed 143 and wounded 438 people in different parts of Afghanistan in 2007, according to UN Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan (UNMACA) statistics.

Listen to IRIN radio report (in Pashto) about 10 children who died after insecurity forced deminers to stop working

Most victims are males aged 1-26, largely from the insurgency-affected southern provinces where the worsening security situation has hampered de-mining activities.

The number of people killed by landmines and other explosive remnants of war saw a 13.2 percent increase in 2007 over 2006 but the overall casualty rate (the combined number of dead and injured) dropped by over 29 percent, UNMACA's findings indicate.

Landmines, UXOs and AXOs killed 124 and wounded 697 Afghans in 2006.

Some 95 percent of landmine injuries lead to disabilities of one kind or another, demining experts say.

According to an IRIN report on mine action entitled Laying Landmines to Rest? Humanitarian Mine Action, conventional anti-personnel landmines cost between US$3 and $27 to produce, while technologically advanced mines, like scatterables and self-destructing mines, can cost up to 50 times more. Most warring parties, including rebels, paramilitary groups and governments in low-intensity conflicts, prefer to use traditional "dumb" mines because they are cheaper, simpler to use, and easier to manufacture.

According to the UK Mine Information and Training Centre (MITC), clearing each mine costs the international community $300-$1,000.

Fewer landmine victims

The Soviet army that invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and various military factions that fought each other in the 1990s, planted millions of landmines (anti-personnel and anti-tank) all over the country, experts say.

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As a result, over 70,000 Afghans were killed or disabled by landmines in the last two decades of the 20th century, according to mine clearing organisations.

Over the past 15 years mine clearance agencies have cleared large swaths of the country of landmines and AXOs. This has significantly reduced the number of casualties. It is unclear how many landmines remain to be cleared.

"In the past, about 100 people were falling prey to landmines every month," said Mohammad Haider Reza, programme director of UNMACA. "Now numbers have dropped to 50-60."

In December 2007, the Afghan government announced that landmine stocks had been destroyed in all military facilities and that there was no "formal landmine stock" in the country.

Under the Ottawa Conventions Afghanistan has renounced the production, stockpiling and use of all anti-personnel landmines.

Explosive remnants of war

As numbers of landmine victims gradually decline concerns about the risks of explosive remnants of war have increased, particularly in conflict-affected southern and southeastern regions.

According to the Protocol on Explosive Remnants of War (2003), all warring groups must "mark and clear, remove or destroy explosive remnants of war in affected territories under its control," immediately after armed hostilities end.

However, all warring sides in Afghanistan, but chiefly Taliban insurgents, are blamed for their lack of compliance with the Protocol and civilian protection.

"Warring parties often leave behind explosive ordnance which endangers the safety of the civilian population," Mohammad Sediq Rashid, UNMACA's chief of operations, told IRIN.