THE use of a phrase landmine, is still controversial and haunting most of the people who have experienced it.
Landmines could be controversial because of their potential as indiscriminate weapons.
They can remain dangerous for many years after a conflict has ended, thereby harming the economy and civilians of such developing nations. With pressure from a number of campaign groups organised through the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which is a global movement to prohibit their use, led to the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines and on their destruction.
Currently, more than 161 nations are party to the Ottawa Treaty. Landmines were designed for two main uses such as to create defensive tactical barriers, channelling attacking forces into predetermined fire zones or slowing an invasion forces progress to allow reinforcement to arrive and to act as passive area denial weapons.
Landmines are currently used in large quantities mostly for the purposes in the demilitarised zones. Currently, the device has continued killing and injuring people every year due to the conflicts in some countries.
The first known landmine in Europe was created by Pedro Navarro (1528), a Spanish soldier who used it in the settlements of the Italian castles in the beginning of the 16th Century. In 1573, a German military engineer by the name of Samuel Zimmermann invented an extremely effective mine known as the Fladdermine.
A landmine can be triggered by a number of things including pressure, movement, sound, magnetism and vibration.
The problem of Landmines and Explosive Remnants of Wars (ERWs) in Zambiawas because of the freedom fighters who were involved in the liberation struggle in the neighbouring countries.
Over the years, the landmines and ERWs have left behind injured and maimedZambians.
The retreating armies left behind the landmines and ERWs of Zambia’s 10 provinces thus contaminating the areas.
While all the wars have since ended, a lasting legacy in the form of Landmines and ERWs remained in areas where the wars took place or where the warring factions were based.
The weapons are indiscriminate in nature as they do not distinguish between combatant and civilian and affects women and children of which some of them have lost their lives due to such dangerous devices.
Most of the communities are afraid to venture in suspected hazardous areas to carryout activities such as cultivation or grazing.
Transportation and communication facilities in affected areas are obstructed and civilians continue to suffer during and long after the wars and sometimes fail to access treatment and rehabilitation because their areas are inaccessible.
Happily, most of the areas in Zambia are now free of landmines following the clearance
of the six known affected provinces by the Zambia Army, Zambia Anti-Personnel Mine Action Centre (ZMAC) and the Norwegian People’s Aid who conducted a survey in the areas of the provinces between 2005 and 2009.
Recently in Chipata, Foreign Affairs Minister Harry Kalaba said his ministry in partnership; with the Zambia Army and Office of the President have continued to perform on -the-spot destruction every time they have reports of landmines in provinces.
The minister admitted that landmines were dangerous to the development of affected communities in numerous ways adding that, they have continued to destroy the lives and the livelihoods of the people.
He explained that landmines were not laid out in a particular pattern but most of the landmines found in Zambia were abandoned or fired but did not explode by retreating freedom fighters while others were laid by the enemies of the freedom fighters that had camps in Zambia.
This was evident as a result of the several reports by the ministry of foreign affairs which it has continued to receive todate.
“These gadgets if not tampered can remain active for many years,” Mr Kalaba told the survivors of Landmines and ERWs before making a donation.
He said most of the areas were now safe and people must go about their daily lives normally but with caution for the reasons highlighted. Mr Kalaba said in the past five years, Government has not received any fresh cases of landmine victims in most of the affected areas of the country.
This means that the Mine Risk Education which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has embarked on since 2003 which had been effective. Mr Kalaba said the Government would continue to carryout Mine Risk Education to ensure that all the concerned people especially the children who are more vulnerable continue to be sensitised. He said the ministry of Foreign Affairs has embarked on a nationwide exercise to identify victims or survivors of Landmines in order to come up with a compressive and reliable database in order to assess the need of the victims and provide comprehensive and effective support to all them. He said survivors in the country are encouraged to get registered with the relevant authorities in their respective areas.
“I wish to call upon you all to give the necessary cooperation to the offices that will come round your communities to identify victims. May I stress that it is not Government’s intention to punish you for any reason as a survivors but to assist you.
“I say this because I am aware that one of the major problems that Government has faced in identification of survivors has been the lack of cooperation from some of the communities where survivors are residing,’’Mr Kalaba said. He said the Government is aware of the some of the untold suffering caused by the weapons to the survivors especially the women and children. Mr Kalaba assured the survivors of the landmines that the Government would work tireless to ensure that they were reintegrated in society. The minister said there was need to promote behavioural change saying people who go round cheating others that there was red-mercury in explosives especially in Eastern province.
“This is a myth and should not be entertained. Do not be cheated, landmines or explosive remnants of war do not contain anything of value and if tampered with will only result in injury or death,” he said.
He appealed to the people in the province to stay away from the dangerous devices. He said the work that the ministry was doing was to assist survivors in accordance with the provisions of the Anti-Personnel Landmine Ban Convention. This is also inline with the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) which Government was party to. It said that ‘Knowledge is Power’, if the affected communities posses the required knowledge about landmines and other ERWs many accidents can be prevented. Simon Phiri, one of the survivors told Mr Kalaba who was accompanied by ministry of Foreign Affairs official Alick Banda that they were living in misery and have no strength to do much work after being injured by the devices.
Mr Phiri appealed to the Government to assist them through including them in some empowerment programmes. Eastern Province medical officer Dr Chileshe Mulenga instructed district commissioners along the border areas of the province to ensure that all those survivors of landmines were compiled and included in Government programmes such as food security pack.
The Government’s desire is to see that mine related accidents are reduced significantly.
This can only be achieved through a rigorous Mine Risk Education Campaign including educational activities that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had embarked on to seek to reduce the risk of injury from landmines and ERWs.