Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Humanitarian Demining Saves Lives

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Humanitarian Demining Saves Lives

Article excerpt


One rainy morning on the green fields of Samaniego, in the countryside of Colombia, a peasant family began its day of toiling. Jose and Leiden Benavides, father and son, both born and raised in the area, were calmly walking over the grass with no idea of the danger they were in until they were surprised by a huge explosion. When he came to and saw his son on the ground with both legs lacerated, Jose ran for help, but his efforts were in vain. Eleven-year-old Leiden did not survive. He died in his father's arms--arms that had also been mutilated. On that fateful day, February 8, 2008, the Benavides family became part of a sad statistic recorded every year in Central and South America: now a total of over 1,000 fatal victims from antipersonnel mines.

Mines have been used for many years by armies to try to prevent the enemy from crossing into certain areas. The goal of these devices is not to kill, but to maim. When a soldier is hit by an antipersonnel mine, he will be removed from the front and others will also leave combat to accompany him. Mines also cause great psychological distress among the troops. General Pol Por once said: "Mines are the perfect soldier, because they work constantly, they do not abandon their post, they do not eat, they do not ask for anything, and most importantly, they take away the enemy's desire for combat."

In the Americas, mines have been placed for decades by various groups fighting for power, and there has been little control over the areas where this ordnance is used. With time, many of the conflicts have ended, but the mines are still active, and still have the same power of destruction.

The Inter-American Defense Board (IADB), headquartered in Washington, DC, is the international organization in charge of humanitarian demining in the American Hemisphere. Since the beginning of the 1990s, demining has been carried out with the assistance of several countries through the Comprehensive Action against Antipersonnel Mines program of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Although similar equipment and similar disarming and safety techniques are used, military demining carried out during a war is totally different from the work performed by humanitarian demining teams. According to Colonel Duizit Brito, current coordinator for the Demining Section at the IADB, "The goal of military demining is to open a narrow pathway in the enemy's line of defense protected by landmines so the troops can pass through. Humanitarian demining, on the other hand, is performed over a large extension of land. Its goal is to eliminate the risk of accidents in the civilian population and return the land to the community."

Over a span of eighteen years, Brazil has played a prominent role in the IADB's Humanitarian Demining Program by sending scores of highly trained teams to the countries still suffering from this problem. Currently, fifteen Brazilian military members are effectively engaged in demining efforts in Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia.

In the case of Colombia, where the situation is most severe, mines are still being planted by insurgent groups. State-of-the-art mine technology imported through the black market makes the work of locating and removing mines even more difficult. The National Planning Department of Colombia estimates that over 50,000 antipersonnel mines are scattered across the country. …

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