A Success Story in Numbers: the Improving Aftermath of ConflictPosted: February 19, 2013
When I started this blog, I had in mind the fear that new conflicts would lead to new use of landmines. This has been proven true in Libya (The Monitor), Sudan (IRIN News) and Mali (Agence France Presse) in just the last two years. However, the question remains as to whether this new use is part of a trend or just an anomaly? The groups using landmines in Libya, Sudan and Mali were not likely to be dissuaded from their use by international pressure or humanitarian concerns, so further investigation was warranted. Using the available data, I’ve tried to statistically review the situation.
When we talk about landmines, one of the biggest points raised is the fact that landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) go on killing many years after a conflict has ended. In Egypt, landmines left over from World War II threaten the lives of Bedouins living in the battlefields of El Alamein (Al Jazeera); in Laos, ordnance dropped by American airplanes almost half a century ago prevent land from being used for agriculture (The New York Times); in Belgium a woman, not even thirty years old, is the youngest survivor of the First World War, having accidently put a bomb on top of a fire during a school camping trip (The Independent). These are very real examples, but the statistics show a definite and laudable trend: fewer and fewer people are injured every year as a result of past conflicts.
From 2005 to 2011, the number of persons killed or injured by ERW from conflicts that ended more than two years previously has dropped from almost 2,800 people to less than six hundred (see category “No Conflict” in the chart below). At the same time, the number of people killed or injured in the immediate aftermath of a conflict (“Conflict Ended”) has remained at or below one hundred persons per year (the one exception is Colombia in 2007, when the conflict in the country briefly subsided before resuming in 2009; I treat this circumstance as a statistical outlier). There are three factors playing into this: 1) because of the global stigma against their use, fewer landmines are being used, 2) humanitarian groups are getting better at reaching refugee and displaced populations with mine risk education programs, and 3) demining activities continue around the globe. I don’t dare to say which of these is the biggest contributor to the decline in landmine casualties: depending on the context and country each could be the leading factor. Another, possibly hidden, cause may be that known or suspected minefields are simply abandoned and not subject to re-use after conflicts.
On the downside, the number of landmine and ERW victims in countries in conflict has remained constant over the last several years at around 3,000 individuals per year. This number is due to the use of new landmines in countries like Pakistan, Myanmar and Colombia but also due to refugees and displaced persons fleeing conflict and traversing old mine fields in countries like Afghanistan. In these countries, the political solution of conflict termination must precede attempts to clear landmines and reduce casualty rates. However, humanitarian agencies do work in the conflict space to provide mine risk education and create safe spaces for displaced persons to gather which probably reduces the number of victims somewhat.
If we look deeper into the numbers, focusing solely on Africa, we see some of the same trends continuing and new ones emerging. In his book, Fate of Africa, Martin Meredith called the first years of the 21st Century, some of the most violent in Africa’s post-independence history. The data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program supports his assertion with 14 separate conflicts across the continent in 2000 and 2001 and 12 in 2002. However, the total number of conflict declined to a low of just five in 2005, before climbing back up to 12 in 2011.
Beginning in 2005, the number of landmine victims in conflict-free countries fell, similar to how the number of victims in all conflict-free countries fell as we saw above. In addition, the number of landmine victims per conflict declined in the same period, from almost 120 victims per conflict to about 35 victims per conflict. Except in 2011. In 2011 with the Arab Spring revolts against Libya, the renewed conflict between Sudan and South Sudan and the invasion of Somalia by Kenya to wipe out Al Shabaab, three violent (Uppsala calls them Level 2 Intensity) conflicts broke out. In these conflicts, an average of more than 150 persons were killed or injured by landmines as the total number of Africans killed or injured by landmines increased by 50% over the numbers seen in 2009 and 2010.
As I stated above, these conflicts may be unusual, but unfortunately they reverse the gains made to date. In 2000, there were six Level 2 intensity conflicts and 840 people were killed or injured by landmines in those conflicts. In 2005, there were no Level 2 intensity conflicts and a clear trend had begun where fewer and fewer landmines claimed victims in Level 1 Intensity conflicts. As the Level 2 conflicts broke out, we see a slight uptick in the number of victims per Level 1 conflict. Fortunately the number of victims in conflict-free countries continues its downward trend, a trend that, like those above, suggests when conflicts end, the number of landmine victims will gradually decrease.
Michael P. Moore
February 19, 2013