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Summary Article: Land Mines
from Encyclopedia of Crisis Management

Land mines are generally referred to as explosive devices that are designed to destroy personnel employed in an armed force or to severely damage equipment. They are detonated through pressure that is activated by a specific target's action, the passage of time, and/or controlled means. The social and economic cost of land mines is tremendous. Once set in place, a mine may remain active for up to 50 years. Even when used according to the generally accepted doctrine of marking and recording, antipersonnel mines result in deaths and severe bodily injuries long after the end of a war or conflict, and this issue remains to be a fatal problem all over the world. Moreover, mine clearance is a costly task that exceeds the budget of even some wealthy nations. Currently, there are 50 to 100 million land mines in more than 80 countries around the world. Deactivation is estimated to be at 100,000 mines per year versus approximately 2 million that are laid annually. If today's current detection and deactivation continues at this rate, removing just all existing mines (without including those yet to be placed) will take at least 500 years.

According to figures provided by The Monitor, a total of 4,191 new casualties were recorded in 2010, compared to 4,010 in 2009 and 5,502 in 2008. During 2010, officials cleared more than 388,000 antipersonnel mines and over 27,000 antivehicle mines throughout the world. Further, The Monitor's 2010–11 report included 12 countries that produce antipersonnel mines, namely China, Cuba, India, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, the United States, and Vietnam. In addition, Israel, Libya, and Myanmar were identified as three governments that have laid antipersonnel mines.

Land mines can be categorized into two types: antitank (AT) and antipersonnel (AP). For the most part, explosive charges are concealed beneath the land's surface in order to slow enemy advancements during war. Usually, AT mines are designed to immobilize vehicles by destroying one or more vital driving components. On some occasions, however, the vehicles’ crew members may also be destroyed. Conversely, AP mines are designed to kill or incapacitate their victims; however, some AP mines may also break or damage the track on armored vehicles.

By the end of World War II, roughly 300 million mines were buried in an effort to destroy enemy tanks. However, these weapons had vital drawbacks given that it was possible for foot soldiers to disable them before detonation and use them against the very army that initially buried them. In order to prevent enemy soldiers from deactivating AT mines, armies therefore developed antipersonnel mines that encircled their antitank mines. Because of the irresponsible use and indiscriminate killing, however, antipersonnel mines were severely stigmatized by the international community.

Social and Economic Costs of Land Mines

Although there is currently a lack of reliable data pertaining to international figures related to casualties attributed to land mines, it has been suggested that 70 persons every 20 minutes a day are either killed or injured, which totals more than 20,000 people a year. On the other hand, costs associated with producing a mine may be as little as $3, yet the cost of removing one ranges from $300 to $1,000.

An ordinance to clear unexploded antipersonnel mines is a difficult and hazardous task for even the experts. Because of accidental explosions, for example, at least one trained mine disposal expert will be killed and two will be injured for every 5,000 mines cleared. One of the most obvious implications is that land mines create uninhabitable territories that result in millions of useless acres. Further, it is not uncommon for individuals who positioned the mines to forget where they located them. Thus, land mines that are positioned in agricultural areas severely impact the locals’ livelihood as well as their annual food production. In the event that no mines existed in their lands, agricultural production would be 200 percent higher in Afghanistan and 135 percent higher in Cambodia. Moreover, tourism that contributes to a nation's postwar economy can be severely hampered by the presence of land mine fields.

As would be expected from antipersonnel devices, the most common injury suffered among survivors is the loss of a leg. Unfortunately, young children are particularly vulnerable to land mines in three ways: (1) out of curiosity, they are likely to pick up strange objects; (2) the presence of posted warning signs is useless if a child is too young to read or is illiterate; and (3) children are far more likely to die from mine injuries than adults.


A U.S. soldier performs a ground sweep for land mines outside Usmankhel, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, December 18, 2011. Agricultural production would be 200 percent higher in Afghanistan if the mines were not a constant hazard.

Afghanistan, Angola, and Cambodia have suffered 85 percent of the world's land mine casualties. In fact, mines are so common in Cambodia that they are now used for fishing in order to protect private property and even settle private disputes. Overall, African children live on the most mine-plagued continent, with an estimated 37 million mines embedded in the soil of at least 19 countries. For example, Angola alone has roughly 10 million land mines that have been responsible for an amputee population of 70,000, of which 8,000 are children. Further, approximately one-half of Rwanda's children have become victims of 50,000 to 100,000 antipersonnel mines since May 1995.

On the other hand, children living in at least 68 countries today are threatened daily by perhaps the most toxic mine pollution contamination facing humankind. According to The Monitor's 2010–11 report, more than 110 million land mines of various types in addition to millions of unexploded bombs, shells, and grenades remain hidden throughout the world just waiting to be triggered by innocent and unsuspecting persons.

Measures to Counter the Land Mine Problem

There are several measures that can mitigate problems from land mines: a total ban on land mines, demining, and increasing awareness of land mines.

Mine ban:

In reality, only a total ban can help eliminate the manufacture, export, and use of land mine weapons. The best-known ban, which became effective on March 1, 1999, is the Ottawa Treaty, or the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, officially known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction. The treaty called upon all states to cease the use, transfer, and production of antipersonnel mines. As of September 2011, 157 countries, or 80 percent of the world's nations, have joined the Mine Ban Treaty, and 87 of these states have completed the destruction of their stockpiles.


Demining is defined as the action of removing land mines, booby traps, and unexploded ordinances (UXO) from an area. Given that mines and booby traps are typically hidden and most often buried, two main demining goals include the following: (1) to enable a military force to achieve its objectives while preventing human losses and (2) to return the land to productive use. As previously mentioned, mine removal is a lengthy and expensive business. Although land mines can be spread carefree at rates of over 1,000 per minute, it may take a skilled expert an entire day to clear by hand 20 to 50 square meters of contaminated land.

Humanitarian demining requires that the entire land area be free of mines. For example, the United Nations specified a clearance standard of 99.6 percent, or that a maximum of four mines are missed for every 1,000 that are removed from the ground. Currently, the only guaranteed way to achieve the United Nations’ requirement is through manual demining methods, a procedure in which mines are manually detected and neutralized by a human deminer. Generally, demining includes the following methods: (1) electomagnetic induction, (2) ground penetrating radar, (3) nuclear quadruple resonance, (4) infrared [IR] and hyperspectral methods, (5) electric impedance tomography, (6) X-ray backscatter, (7) acoustic and seismic systems, (8) vapor sensors, (9) robotics, (10) thermal neutron activation, (11) neutron backscatter, and (12) data fusion. In addition to these methods, trained dogs have long been used to sniff out land mines in war-torn regions. Today, even rats and bees are used for mine removal tasks.

Mine awareness:

Although prevention efforts are already in place, namely, mine-awareness programs that are designed to teach community residents how to identify land mines or avoid suspected mine field areas, these programs also require expanded support from the public health community. High-risk areas and populations can be identified through hospital surveillance and cluster surveys. In turn, this facilitates the allocation of limited resources as well as the development of effective prevention strategies.

UNICEF stated that protecting children calls for a major international commitment based on large-scale mine clearance and the development of child-oriented awareness programs as well as physical rehabilitation to offset the results of land mines. Essentially, children living in high-risk areas should receive innovative education awareness through child-to-child approaches, role-playing, and the use of land mine survivors as educators. In addition, greater attention should be placed on training local mine clearance teams and adapting local needs to effective international techniques.

See Also

  • Arms Control
  • Border Disputes
  • Hazard Mitigation
  • Hazardous Materials
  • Improvised Explosive Devices
  • Terrorism
Further Readings
  • Andersson, Neil; Sousa, Cesar Palha da; Paredes, Sergio. “Social Cost of Land Mines in Four Countries: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cambodia, and Mozambique.” British Medical Journal, v.311/7007 (1995).
  • International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). “Conference Document of Certain Conventional Weapons Convention.” Geneva: ICRC, May 1994.
  • Landmine Monitor 2011: International Campaign to Ban Land Mines.” The Monitor. (Accessed March 2011).
  • Robledo, L.; Carrasco, M.; Mery, D.. “A Survey of Land Mine Detection Technology.” International Journal of Remote Sensing, v.30/9 (2009).
  • United Nations Children's Fund. “Impact of Armed Conflict on Children: Land-Mines: A Deadly Inheritance.” (Accessed March 2011).
  • University of Western Australia. “Demining Research at the University of Western Australia.” (Accessed March 2011).
  • Walsh, Nicolas E.; Walsh, Wendy S.. “Rehabilitation of Landmine Victims: The Ultimate Challenge.” Bulletin of the World Health Organization (2003).
Kadir Akyuz
Independent Scholar
© 2013 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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