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Landmine contamination

Minefield warning sign on a beach in Sri LankaMinefield warning sign on a beach in Sri LankaThere are 78 countries in the world that are "contaminated" with landmines—explosive devices buried in the ground during wartime. Up to 20,000 people are killed every year, while countless more are badly injured. Nearly half of the victims are children, 84% of them boys. Anti-personnel mines detonate easily: all it takes is for a small child to step on one. Mines were first used in World War I, but they became particularly widely used in conflicts around the world from the 1960s onwards. Troops lay anti-personnel mines in minefields as a defensive barrier against enemy attacks. The problem is that, years after conflicts have ended, many landmines remain in the ground. Because their exact positions are not known, they pose a serious threat to the safety of people who live there. The minefields also cannot be used for growing crops or raising livestock.  

Afghan child injured by a landmineAfghan child injured by a landmine

An anti-personnel landmineAn anti-personnel landmine


A landmine is an explosive device placed on the ground and hidden by leaves or rocks, or buried just under the soil. It is detonated automatically by when someone steps on it or drives over it. There are two main types: anti-tank mines, designed to blow up heavy vehicles, and anti-personnel landmines, which are designed to inflict serious injuries on people.

Landmine safely destroyed in MozambiqueLandmine safely destroyed in Mozambique
When a person steps on a mine and activates it, the mine's main charge detonates, creating a blast of hot gases travelling at high speed. Many types of landmine are fitted with anti-handling devices. These detonate the mine if someone attempts to lift it or disarm it. For this reason, the standard procedure for clearing mines is to destroy them on site without attempting to lift them.Zimbabwean children walk past a minefieldZimbabwean children walk past a minefield

Areas of the Falkland Islands where landmines were laid during the 1982 Falklands War between UK and Argentina have become favourite places for penguins to breed. The birds do not weigh enough to detonate the mines, so they can breed safely, free of human interference.

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