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An exhibition by a Laos disability NGO is a much-needed reminder of the long-term problems caused by unexploded ordnance such as cluster bombs and landmines.
Landmines are a powerful example of how technology can cause devastation. They cause various impairments, mainly limb loss, but also visual, hearing and psychological damage. Landmine clearance methods such as manual detectors and mechanical clearers are an equally powerful example of how technology can help mitigate that devastation — though it takes significantly more effort to clear mines than to lay them.
The Laos government estimates that 30 per cent of the bombs dropped in the country between 1964 and 1973 failed to detonate. But it is not the only country living with this legacy. As new conflicts arise (most recently in Syria and Ukraine), so do questions and lobbying over the use of anti-personnel mines, led by bodies such as the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

“Landmines are not an isolated issue, but one that fits with experiences of disabled people and their families more broadly.”

Sue Coe

Dealing with landmines requires a two-pronged response to both remove the mines and rehabilitate and support those injured and their families. The majority affected are civilians, despite widespread perceptions of landmines mainly targeting solders. Damage caused in a moment can deeply impact the person and their families for decades. Organisations including the Mines Advisory Group have been operating for more than 25 years to tackle landmine issues using these approaches.
Global mechanisms are in place to monitor treaties and actions relating to mines. For example, the 2009 Cartagena Action Plan set a five-year monitoring plan for several areas of holistic, age- and gender-sensitive support for landmine victims. These are: emergency and continuing medical care; physical rehabilitation; psychological and psychosocial support; and social and economic reintegration. [1] States meet regularly to report their progress on this and the Mine Ban Treaty — the most recent monitoring meeting happened in Geneva in April. [2] This work is critical to eliminate the underlying problem and ensure that laying new mines is not seen as acceptable behaviour.
Significantly, anti-landmine campaigners now frame their work within the broader UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. [3] This move recognises that landmines are not an isolated issue, but one that fits with experiences of disabled people and their families more broadly. It places landmines into a bigger discussion on disability inclusion and avoids it potentially being seen as a competitor for resources.
Although landmines are far from today’s major headlines, their reach and damage continues. Work to eradicate anti-personnel mines and support their victims will remain relevant for the foreseeable future.
Sue Coe has worked in international development for 25 years across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Now a development and disability inclusion consultant, she previously worked for World Vision, Practical Action (formerly ITDG), VSO and Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID). Sue can be contacted at [email protected]


[1] Cartagena Action Plan recommendations (Victim Assistance, 30 November 2009)
[2] Mine Ban Treaty Intersessional Standing Committees Meeting 2014 (International Campaign to Ban Landmines, accessed 21 May 2014)
[3] Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (UN, 2006)