Colombia is a country riddled with antipersonnel landmines, explosive remnants from the decades-long conflict, but according to a recent US report, there has been a “significant decline” in landmine victims.
The US State Department on Monday released its annual report “To Walk The Earth In Safety,” a document listing its global efforts to eradicate landmines and conventional weapons in the 2014 fiscal year.
According to the report, Latin America has “the highest rate of criminal violence in the world” — due in part to a weak law enforcement situation challenged by an illegal narcotics and weapons trade.
And out of all of Latin America, Colombia has the most dangerous territory in terms of unexploded ordnance (UXO), landmines and other explosive remnants.
Deaths by landmines in Colombia
Colombia’s decades-long conflict has left the vast and diverse landscape riddled with explosives, bombs and death traps — sprinkled across rural areas in all but one of the country’s 32 provinces.
In 2013, Colombia was the second country in the world for citizen deaths by land mines and undetonated explosive artifacts left over from the conflict with 368 casualties that year alone — a number that does not include those left injured, handicapped and amputated from the explosions.
A more inclusive number is 2,672 — the number of incidents reported to Colombia’s Presidential Program for Comprehensive Mine Action in 2013 resulting from mines, improvised explosive devices, and UXO in mined or suspected hazardous areas or from military demining operations in 28 of 32 provinces.
The number of deaths in 2013 from landmines, however, did decrease 26 percent from 2012 (497). This is a significant reduction from 2005 and 2006, when casualty rates peaked at roughly 1,200 per year.
From fiscal year 2001 to fiscal year 2014, the US sent more than $37.7 million to support Colombian humanitarian demining efforts, rural victim assistance programs, and mine risk education.
Peace talks make progress for landmine clearance
The importance of demining will grow as Colombia seeks to return 64,749,702 square meters (25,468 square miles) of land to more than 360,000 families over a 10- year period through its unprecedented initiative, the Victims and Land Restitution Law.
Coinciding with the recent political progress, Colombia plans to gradually increase its demining operational and equipment capacity using military and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
In March of this year, the government and the FARC, the nation’s largest guerrilla group, reached an agreement to work together to rid the country of landmines — a success of the ongoing peace talks between the two entities in Havana, Cuba.
NGOs aid in process
International NGOs involved in Colombia’s land safety efforts include the British organization HALO, the largest and oldest landmine clearance group in the world, and the Organization of the American States (OAS), which continued support for 10 military humanitarian demining units and was provided additional funding for the development of three new military units by 2016 in the country.
HALO began work in Colombia in 2009 and works by training citizens on demining tactics and safety measures — resulting in teams of employed individuals who risk their lives to clear the fields in the incredibly strenuous and technical procedure that is landmine destruction.
HALO is the only NGO, and the only civilian organization, currently conducting mine clearance in the country.
As of March, HALO had only been able to clear 28.2 acres — just a tiny plot of land in comparison to the work needed to be done across the country. To pick up progress, more international NGOs are following HALO’s example, in conjunction with expected growth in government efforts.
With 10,000 civilians and military personnel killed or injured from landmines and UXO since 1990, Colombia needs assistance not only in prevention of injury but in the treatment of those afflicted by the explosives, who are often left dismembered, blind, and physically incapacitated.
In recent years the USAID Leahy War Victims Fund has continued to support Colombia’s capacity building for three physical rehabilitation units and to upgrade prosthetic and orthotic labs to comply with regulations associated with the Victims and Land Restitution Law.
The United States is the largest contributor to economic activities of conventional weapons destruction (CWD) in the world, and last year announced that it would begin to destroy its stocks of anti-personnel mines and stop use worldwide except in the Korean Peninsula.