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A World without Landmines.

The lights dim. A hush settles over the audience. An international campaign to outlaw landmines takes center stage. Humanity is taking steps to control its own destiny, motivated by compassion for landmine victims and in reaffirmation of the basic human right to live a full and happy life without fear that the next day could be the last. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is endeavoring to force the world to restore the lives of those who have been injured by these incapacitating instruments of destruction. It is the responsibility of all nations to recognize, by examining the human need demonstrated by landmine survivors, that the most devastating weapon of war the world has ever known must be outlawed.

The effects of landmines on individual populations and entire countries are disastrous. Even a murmured whisper that landmines might be nearby causes residents to flee. Whole communities become uninhabitable. People abandon their fields, their homes, their lives, their dreams. They leave behind all they have worked for, bearing only what they can carry. Some never return.

Residents are afraid--afraid that the verdant, beckoning fields that are their livelihood may conceal hidden terrors. They don't dare allow their children to play outside; their children may not come home. They live in fear that their very lives and the lives of their families will be torn apart by an unsuspected blast from a landmine.

One in every 236 Cambodians has forfeited a limb to a mine, one in every 420 Angolans. Imagine living in Angola, a country that has been wracked by civil conflict for the last twenty years. Imagine you live in Quicunzo, the Angolan heart of a formerly thriving Portuguese banana-producing community. Quicunzo is isolated; its only link with the outside world is one safe road that leads to Luanda, the Angolan capital. It takes seven hours to travel that road--seven hours to travel 120 miles to the nearest hospital. The carcasses of trucks that litter the roadside remain a silent testament to the lives lost to landmines on that seven-hour trip.

Quicunzo is a prime example of another debilitating effect of landmines: lack of redevelopment. Because of the landmines, nations are hampered from reconstruction after a conflict has ended. Roads, bridges, and power lines are primary targets for landmines. Schoolyards and farmlands are also essential objectives for those who lay the destructive devices. Mines disrupt development of potentially fertile fields. Vast tracts of top quality farmland lie fallow because of the threat of death and maiming. The placement of these landmines delays or even cancels life-saving relief supplies.

International organizations have been working tirelessly to ensure that haunting images of maimed civilians and disabled infrastructures--grisly reminders of the horrors inflicted by landmines--will be overcome, will not endure. They see in the faces of the victims a cry for assistance, a social injustice that needs to be addressed. A majority of these organizations have united under the leadership of the ICBL, whose goal is a complete worldwide ban on the production, use, and export of antipersonnel landmines.

The crucial first step came in late 1997 when ninety nations assembled to sign a treaty to ban antipersonnel landmines and to provide funds for international demining programs and aid for mine victims. From the time the Mine Ban Treaty was signed in Ottawa, Ontario, in December 1997, the abundance of known landmine exporters fell from fifty-four to sixteen. The international weapons market has approached a virtual cessation in the volume of mines traded. Twenty-six countries are in the process of destroying their stockpiles of antipersonnel mines; nineteen have already done so. Fewer new landmine victims have been reported in some of the most affected areas, which include Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, and Mozambique. The majority of the world's nations have taken the first step toward eradicating these deadly remnants of war. Nevertheless, it is only a first step.

The largest manufacturers of landmines--including the United States, Russia, China, and Yugoslavia--have yet to sign the Mine Ban Treaty. Other countries, while acquiescing to the treaty's stipulation that all nations must destroy their stockpiles, insist upon retaining at least 1,000 antipersonnel mines for "training purposes only." While this is an affirmed right under the Mine Ban Treaty, it contradicts the very ideals upon which the ICBL is based. If landmines are to disappear from our world, every country must make a commitment to completely obliterate landmines from their weapons arsenals. Not one country can be allowed to slip through the cracks. Even if no more landmines are laid, experts say that it will be well into the twenty-first century before all the landmines have been cleared from the Earth's soil. Every country must thoroughly and unconditionally commit itself to extirpating this most insidious weapon. If even one country fails to do so, that country would ruin all that the ICBL has worked for to rectify the moral dilemma caused by these indiscriminate weapons that wound and kill more civilians than soldiers.

Landmine use presents a moral quandary in that it transcends the physical catastrophes created by its use. The values of the international community need to be reevaluated. Values are formed through experience and observation: the experience of seeing people struggle to eke out an existence after their lives and limbs have been shattered; the observation of a nation struggling to rebuild itself after being ravaged by brutal fighting. Humanity's new values must include removing this lethal and indiscriminate weapon from the arsenals available to the immoral component of human nature. Landmine survivors are a living testimony to the horrors humanity is capable of inflicting upon itself. Only by rectifying this tragedy and accepting these survivors as a social and an international responsibility can we hope to abolish landmines and negate their effects.

Nearly three-quarters of the world's nations have responded to this humanitarian cry for aid. Funds for mine victim assistance have been rising steadily since the early 1990s. Millions upon millions of U.S. dollars are contributed every year to humanitarian mine victim survivor causes. Most of this money is utilized to pay for emergency medical care. There are thousands of survivors whose missing limbs have been replaced with prosthetics; there are thousands more who cannot afford it. Due to psychological trauma, and without psychosocial support, an overwhelming majority of these survivors will never be able to become productive members of society. Mine victim experts estimate that an average of $9,000 is required for each survivor. This figure includes first aid, emergency medical care, prosthetics and physical rehabilitation, psychosocial support, vocational training, and employment referral support. And as long as landmines are still in use, the reality of victims and high cost of aid will continue.

"When a young Afghan boy lost his lower leg to a mine in the rugged mountains east of Kabul, his toes were found embedded in the wound in his chest." How many more headlines such as this, from the Dallas Morning News in November 1997, must run in newspapers and magazines before all the nations of the Earth make a commitment to uphold the basic human right to live without fear of dangerous landmines? How many more graphic landmine stories must be run in the media before the international community realizes this is a situation for which humanity can and must take control of its own destiny? How many more glamorous champions does this cause need--first Princess Diana of Great Britain; then Queen Noor of Jordan--before sufficient international pressure is directed toward total removal of this devastating weapon?

Humanity has it within its power to see that no more lives are ruined, no more limbs are lost, due to landmines. Why must an Afghan boy be found with his toes embedded in his chest? Why must a woman have to hobble on one leg to fetch water because she can't afford a prosthesis? How can humanitarians ignore such potent cries for help? What better way to take global responsibility than to outlaw a weapon that kills or maims 26,000 people worldwide each year? What better way to respond to human needs than to help reconstruct the 300,000 lives that have been torn apart?

As U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat--Vermont) asked of Congress, as the ICBL asks of every nation, I ask of you: what greater gift could we give to the people of the world in the twenty-first century than a world without landmines?

Felicity Fields, now eighteen, is a student from Whitewater, Wisconsin. This essay won first prize in the "thirteen to seventeen" age category of the 2000 Humanist Essay Contest. Photographs have been added for editorial purposes.
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Author:Fields, Felicity
Publication:The Humanist
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Sep 1, 2001
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