Are landmines one of the 20 biggest issues?

Every once in a while, we need to take a reality check.  When CNN and its columnist, John D. Sutter (CNN), invited the Internet public to select five “neglected” stories for coverage in the coming year as part of a new segment, “Change the List,” I was pretty excited to contribute.  Internet users could select five from the following twenty subjects, one of which was the continuing threat of landmines around the world.  Being a good advocate, I tweeted and facebooked about the voting and sent around a note to some of my co-workers.  The results were tallied this morning and the winning selections are in bold.  Out of more than 32,000 ballots, the winning causes were each named on at least 12,000 ballots:

  • Widest rich-poor gap: What’s happening to America’s middle class? One state may yield answers (First Choice).
  • Free speech crackdown: One country ranks lower than North Korea when it comes to free speech.
  • No toilets: In one country, 90% of people don’t have access to basic sanitation.
  • America’s most endangered river: Most U.S. rivers are unsuitable for aquatic life, the EPA says. (Fifth Choice)
  • Malaria at its deadliest: Malaria-infected mosquitoes killed an estimated 660,000 people in 2010.
  • Saddest of the rich countries: Australia is the happiest, according to one survey. Who could use cheering up?
  • No Internet — in the U.S.: Pockets of the United States have little high-speed Internet access.
  • Where rape is common: Women in some communities face disproportionate rates of rape and violence (Third Choice).
  • High-school dropouts: Many U.S. schools are failing their students. Where is the problem worst?
  • Poor kids in the rich world: Kids in extreme poverty suffer stunting and malnutrition. (Fourth Choice)
  • Mothers die in childbirth: In one country, one in 100 live births kills the mother.
  • Roads that kill: Smarter laws could prevent many of the 1.3 million annual road traffic fatalities.
  • Polio still cripples: Polio has been 99% eradicated, but three countries stand in the way.
  • Where women aren’t in government: The barriers aren’t formal, but five countries have almost no female representation.
  • Illegal animal trade: Illicit trade in animal parts lines pockets and empties ecosystems. (Second Choice)
  • Leprosy remains a scourge: The WHO says more than 200,000 cases of leprosy are diagnosed each year.
  • Conflict is never-ending: The longest-running and deadliest conflicts aren’t always in the news.
  • Likely to be locked up: Which U.S. state has the highest incarceration rate? And why?
  • Land mines end lives: Land mines still kill thousands per year. What can be done to remove them?
  • Drug-dependent state: U.S. demand ultimately drives the illicit drug trade and cartel violence.


In case you were wondering, I voted for Landmines (ended in 16th place), Never-ending conflict (6th place), Deadly roads (10th place), Polio (17th place) and Malaria (15th place).  In total, landmines received 4,125 votes, or fewer votes than documented casualties in 2011 (4,286 persons killed or injured).

In the week in which voting on topics was open, I saw many social media postings from mine action groups encouraging their members and followers to vote for landmines, but I also saw one very interesting email on the Linking Mine Action and Development list serve.  In the message, the writer asked simply, “are landmines really a top 20 issue currently?”  He went on further to say:

In terms of the number of people affected economically, let alone the number killed or injured, the impact is tiny compared with SALW, malaria, road traffic accidents, organised crime, tobacco consumption, obesity, and very many other issues…

Landmines clearly deserve our attention, we should definitely continue to work on them, but all the research I have read that asks local people in affected countries has put landmines well down the list of priorities after such things as safe water, schools, religious buildings, better roads and so on…

Identifying mine action as a “key enabler” for all sorts of issues does not make mine action in itself a top 20 issue…

Over-emphasising an issue because it is of concern to us, or because we know more about it than about other issues, or even at worst simply because we work in the area, shows a lack of serious professional and impartial judgement – development must surely be based on local people and their priorities.


The writer is absolutely correct in pointing out that development should take into account the priorities, needs and dreams of the intended beneficiaries.  If the residents of mine-affected countries identify other issues as priorities, and they absolutely do, development should be responsive to those issues.

Development should also be about making the greatest impact.  Malaria, diarrheal disease and automobile accidents each kill in a single day more than landmines kill or injure in a year.  John Sutter in his remarks announcing the winning subjects remarked on the fact that leprosy, which received the fewest votes of any topic, is diagnosed in 100,000 people every year; twenty times the incidence of landmine casualties.

I would also like to point out that I don’t think of landmines and mine action as a neglected issue.  After all, celebrities like Prince Harry, Paul McCartney and Danny Glover have spoken out on the subject and in the upcoming biopic on Princess Diana, her landmine advocacy will be a prominent subject.  So, I do not mind that landmines did not make CNN’s final list and look forward to more conversations about prioritizing development.

Michael P. Moore

June 18, 2013

3 Comments on “Are landmines one of the 20 biggest issues?”

  1. The landmine issue topped my voting list. I don’t recall the order of my other choices, but they included malaria, illegal animal trade, never-ending conflict and leprosy. (From Laurel Anne Hill, Moderator of the Minds Clearing Land Mines WordPress Blog)

  2. Mike Fryer says:

    Mine Action can be a prerequisite for humanitarian aid and economic regeneration. It creates safe and secure conditions to enable development to take place. Roads can’t be built, nor hospitals and schools constructed, nor emergency aid given, on land contaminated by landmines and unexploded bombs.

    • Hi Mike,
      I absolutely agree that mine action is one of the pre-conditions / prerequisites / enablers of development in post-conflict countries. What I wanted to highlight in the piece was both the highly crowded space that is development, but also some of the debate within the development community (including by those who work in mine action) about the relevance of mine action in relation to other issues. I think by focusing on mine action’s role in allowing other development, we demonstrate the importance of mine action. But we also need to recognize that local stakeholders should be establishing the priorities for development and mine action should be directed towards actions that meet those priorities.
      Thanks for your comment.

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