Health professionals in central Colombia claim Colombia’s landmine problem is more serious than even the official statistics may indicate.
Last week’s global Mine Ban Convention, held in Medellin, the capital of the central state of Antioquia, reiterated United Nations figures that attribute Colombia with the highest incidence of landmine casualties in the world. Elsewhere in the state, health workers say the situation on the ground is worsening.
In an interview with Colombia Reports, a group of health workers, who work in remote rural areas and asked to remain anonymous due to security concerns, estimated that as many as 50% of all accidents in the countryside requiring medical attention result from landmine explosions, a number Colombia Reports was unable to verify at the time this article was published.
One doctor who regularly visits a guerrilla-controlled territory under strict conditions of silence said that, despite government reports indicating a steady decline in the number of landmine incidents, the use of hidden explosives has increased considerably since he began volunteering four years ago.
Though Ivan Marquez, the FARC rebel group’s chief negotiator in ongoing peace talks with the Colombian government, expressed the group’s “willingness” to come to an agreement on the use of landmines in a statement released last Thursday, the doctor said there is nothing resembling a consensus on the subject between individual units of the country’s largest guerrilla organization.
Furthermore, according to the doctor, local residents report other criminal organizations, such as the region’s neo-paramilitary narco-traffickers, also regularly deploy landmines, a claim that contrasts the government’s heavy emphasis on the role guerrillas play in perpetuating the problem.
Discussing Colombia’s present situation at the Mine Ban Conference last week, for example, Vice-President Angelino Garzon made exclusive mention of the FARC and ELN rebel groups, placing the onus on the guerrillas to cease their documented reliance on landmines and aid the government in removal efforts.
The doctor Colombia Reports spoke with explained that the cheapness and effectiveness of improvised explosives as a strategy for protecting territory and covering movements appeal to other armed organizations as much as to the rebels.
According to another doctor, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, the rural areas most affected by landmine incidents are also characterized by a lack of infrastructure and state medical resources. Most victims, he said, cannot reach medical centers. When they do, the medical services they receive is of “the lowest quality,” said the doctor.
When asked about a possible solution to the ongoing situation, the medical professionals focused entirely on treatment for victims — 40% of whom are civilians, according to a presidential task force report –stressing that rural communities need better social health services and long-term care.
- Interview with volunteer doctors in Antioquia