To the Editor,
In his September 2007 report to constituents, MP Vic Toews provides a number of statistics measuring progress in Afghanistan including an incorrect statistic on antipersonnel (AP) mine clearance. The Manitoba Campaign to Ban Landmines (MBCBL) notified Mr. Toews about the error and we were grateful for the mostly accurate correction printed in Mr. Toews’ January 2008 report to constituents. However, further clarification of the statistic and the correction is needed.
The September 2007 constituency report noted incorrectly that: “Results in Afghanistan since taking office: 65,000 landmines have been destroyed leaving millions of squared meters of land cleared for agriculture and housingâ€. That statistic referred to stockpiled AP mines destroyed between 2002, when Afghanistan joined the Mine Ban Treaty, and early 2006, when the current Canadian government came to power. The majority of those mines, over 58,000, were destroyed between April 2003 and December 2005. Stockpiled mines are not in the ground so their destruction had little, if any, impact on clearing land for agriculture and housing. Their destruction does, however, prevent them from being used in the future. As a signatory to the Mine Ban Treaty, Afghanistan is required to destroy its stockpiled AP mines and it has been successful. An additional 460,000 stockpiled AP mines were reported destroyed in 2006 and, in late 2007, Afghanistan reported that it had completed its destruction of known stockpiles.
Mine action activities in Afghanistan are coordinated by the United Nations Mine Action Center for Afghanistan (UNMACA), and funding for mine action comes from dozens of government and non-government sources. The Landmine Monitor Report 2007, produced annually by the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate International Campaign to Ban Landmines, reported that in 2006 nearly 133 square kilometres of land contaminated by over 13,000 AP mines (26 square kilometres) and over 800,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance (107 square kilometres) were cleared. It is estimated, however, that there could still be as much as 778 square kilometres of contaminated land throughout Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has had considerable success dealing with its landmine problem but the news is not all positive. Available statistics show that demining activities slowed in 2006 as a result of decreased international funding and deteriorating security. Casualties in Afghanistan from landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) like cluster munitions resulted in more than 840 new casualties in 2005 and nearly 800 in 2006. Despite increased mine clearance, the casualty rate has remained relatively constant with children comprising nearly half of the victims. It is estimated that Afghanistan could have as many as 60,000 landmine/ERW survivors who will require long-term medical and rehabilitation support.
Canada’s recent announcement that it will provide $80 million over four years to fund mine action activities in Afghanistan is important but more should be done there and in the dozens of other mine-affected countries around the world. The MBCBL, which is a member of the Cluster Munition Coalition, also urges the Canadian government to take a more active lead role in the new global movement to end the suffering caused by cluster munitions. The use of cluster munitions and the indiscriminate effect they have on civilian populations must be stopped now before they create an even greater humanitarian crisis.
Darryl R. Toews