After more than half-a-decade of fighting and insecurity, Colombia has one of the highest landmine casualty rates in the world. Government figures published recently show that more than 10,000 Colombians have been wounded or killed by landmines and unexploded devices since 1990, 1,019 of whom were children.
A Reuters article names two of the youngsters who have died this year. In June, Juan David Perez was walking with his grandmother in the countryside of northern Colombia, when the thirteen year-old boy found an unexploded device. When Juan touched it, the device exploded and killed him. 600 kilometres away on Colombia’s Pacific coast, another thirteen year-old was helping his local school clean up a beach. Juan Camilo Cordoba stepped on a landmine and he too was killed by the explosion.
The boys are just two of the victims in this deadly problem for the South American country. The Colombian government is responsible for the clearance of mines and explosive devices and has been investing in new methods, such as the use of rats for dealing with the threat of landmines. But experts estimate it will take more than a decade to clear all of the devices.
As a signatory of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, Colombia has agreed to clear all its mines by 2021. This will be a huge challenge given the number of devices across the country. And the problem is made even greater by the fact that conflict with rebel groups is still ongoing in certain regions. Peace talks are underway and this week, the Colombian president said agreement could be reached by the end of this year with “sufficient political will”. But so far, there has been no ceasefire or let-up in the fighting.
According to the Colombian Campaign to Ban Landmines (CCCM), demining is particularly needed along Colombia’s border areas and southern provinces, where the fighting has been most intense in recent times. A spokesperson for CCCM told Reuters that if demining activities could be focused in these areas, it would “alleviate the suffering and confinement communities face there and [allow for the clearance of] mines near schools and areas used by communities”.
As the cases of the two boys illustrate, demining activities are needed elsewhere too, though experts say it’s hard to know the exact scale of the problem. In the meanwhile, many would like to see more awareness of the problem among the population, particularly among city-dwellers, so that when they venture into the countryside they understand about the dangers which may be lurking there.