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FAQs about remnants of conflict

1. What are landmines?

2. Why are landmines laid?

3. Why are landmines left behind?

4. Why are bombs and other weapons left behind?

5. What makes landmines explode?

6. What makes unexploded bombs explode?

7. What do landmines do that other weapons don’t do?

8. How are landmines laid?

9. Why don’t those who use landmines and bombs clear them afterwards?

10. Is it possible to describe the scale of the landmine problem?

11. How difficult is it to detect and disable landmines?

12. What kinds of methods are currently used to detect and disable landmines?

13. Do you think efforts to remove landmines are getting enough support from governments?

14. What is the Ottawa Treaty/Mine Ban Treaty?


See also:

FAQs about MAG
FAQs about giving to MAG





1. What are landmines?

A landmine is defined by the Mine Ban Treaty as "a munition designed to be placed under, on or near the ground or other surface area and to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person or a vehicle."

Landmines are generally divided into two main groups – anti-personnel and anti-tank – and have four main component parts: an outer structure made of either plastic, wood, metal, Bakelite, rubber or even glass; a fuse or firing mechanism; a detonator; and high explosives.

Some contain thousands of pieces of shrapnel, designed to fire out to great distances, while others have been made with a minimum amount of metal and are therefore difficult to detect using metal detectors.

Landmines are often round in shape and range from the diameter of a small paperweight to a large tin of sweets or, in the case of anti-vehicle landmines, as large as dinner plates.

Anti-personnel landmines can also be square or shaped like a butterfly. Others are cylindrical, with spikes that stick out of the ground. Homemade copies are called improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

There are different injuries sustained by landmines due to the varying types:

• Blast landmines are pressure-activated and generally produce injuries from the explosive detonating;

• Fragmentation landmines (various types) contain shrapnel, which is fired out into victims when the mine detonates;

• Bounding fragmentation landmines jump out of the ground to waist level when activated and fire thousands of deadly fragments, in some cases to a radius of around 100m.

Anti-vehicle or anti-tank landmines are larger and take greater pressure to activate. They can rip through vehicles when detonated and cause devastating damage to drivers and passengers. These landmines do not fall under the Mine Ban Treaty. An innocent person’s vehicle could most certainly activate an anti-vehicle landmine.

Also not falling under the Mine Ban Treaty is the Claymore. This is a ‘directional’ fragmentation landmine designed to be ‘trigger-activated’ rather than detonated by an indiscriminate person, and therefore bypassing the treaty. However the Claymore is often rigged up with a trip-wire fuse which can be tripped by a victim.

See also: Mine Ban Treaty; International Campaign to Ban Landmines website; Mine Ban Convention website; United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) website


2. Why are landmines laid?

Those involved in armed conflicts often wish to protect their own positions, look-out posts, ammunition stores, depots, access routes and roads, and so on.

In some cases, landmines are used to protect these areas. Minefields are also laid to channel military forces into areas, or deny them freedom of movement on routes.

Also, while many countries protect their borders with safe official controls (the type we come across when traveling by road from one country to the next), a few restrict entry into their territory by the more severe methods of laying landmines.

Landmines can also be laid under duress. If a community is being captured by a rebel group, some people are forced to protect their own surrounding areas by laying mines. Once the rebels retreat the community is still left mined and dangerous.


3. Why are landmines left behind?

When position points come under attack there is often a quick retreat and those leaving their areas may leave behind what they can’t carry – in armed conflict this can include landmines.

Some will simply leave their positions or retreat in the hope that their enemy will fall foul of the landmines they have left behind.

Countries who wish to protect their borders with landmines won’t allow their removal.

Also, countries that have signed the Mine Ban Treaty may still hold stockpiles of landmines in large stores waiting to be destroyed, and this takes time and care to implement.


4. Why are bombs and other weapons left behind?

Other explosive remnants of armed conflict that are dropped or thrown – such as mortars, grenades and cluster bombs – simply malfunction. It’s known that up to 20 per cent can fail to function as designed (ie. explode).

There could be many reasons why a bomb doesn’t work as expected: for example, the aircraft releasing it may be too low or too high, or it may land on soft earth. But once it has failed to detonate it remains dangerous on the ground until someone disables or detonates it.

There are also stockpiles of arms and weapons that are often left behind or stored and these also need to be secured and destroyed.


5. What makes landmines explode?

Most landmines are designed to explode by the pressure of a person stepping on it (ie. they are victim operated). The pressure needed to activate an anti-personnel mine can be as little as five kilogrammes. In some cases, goats and other cattle have been killed or injured by grazing in a mined area.


6. What makes unexploded bombs explode?

Moving them, digging or ploughing over them, dropping them, trying to get the precious metal from them, or just playing with them, can set off an unexploded bomb/ordnance (UXO).


7. What do landmines do that other weapons don’t do?

Landmines are sometimes called “the soldier that never sleeps”, as they can lay buried in the ground for many years and still work when a victim stands on it.

Landmines do not discriminate between soldiers and civilians – they can be left for anyone to trigger them accidentally, even a child. They’re unique because they can affect entire communities, the way people live, work and play.

Also unique is the psychological burden from landmines. Once he or she triggers a mine, a victim has no choice but to be injured or killed; this fear changes the way people live and act. Rehabilitation costs from one detonation can be huge, with any number of people directly and indirectly affected by a single accident.


8. How are landmines laid?

They can be buried under the surface of the ground or just below the surface, either by hand (depending on how quickly they need to laid) or by using special mine-laying vehicles. Some can even be laid by scattering them from the air.


9. Why don’t those who use landmines and bombs clear them afterwards?

Some do, but often it is not recorded and we simply don’t know if this clearance targets high priority areas that affect people’s lives and livelihoods first, or whether the clearance targets uninhabited low priority land.

MAG exists because of its humanitarian aims – our first priority is to clear high priority areas where people live, work, study, farm land and so on. We do this through surveys, Community Liaison, and tapping into local knowledge, authorities and agencies.

Our work entails more than plain conflict clearance, so even if there are others who clear after conflict we can’t be sure they have the same approach we do.


10. Is it possible to describe the scale of the landmine problem?

More than 80 countries are affected by remnants of armed conflict. The number of landmines contaminating the world is unknown, but should be counted in millions.

In human terms, it is estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 people become casualties every year – that’s around one person every 20 minutes.

In some countries, about one third of casualties of landmines and other remnants of armed conflict are children.

The devastation is much wider than simply being physical: living on mined land can affect every aspect of a person’s daily life, when fear of doing the simplest things is the first thing on their mind.

It is estimated that, at the current rate of clearance, it will take one thousand years to clear the landmines that are known to exist.


11. How difficult is it to detect and disable landmines?

Different types of landmines pose different threats to those who clear them. Anti-vehicle landmines are usually easier to detect due to the large metal content. However, some can be fitted with anti-handling devices – or booby traps – which are designed to initiate the landmine if it is tampered with.

Many anti-personnel landmines are made of plastic and have minimum metal content (usually just a firing pin, and the metal jacket of a detonator). Hi-tech metal detectors are used and these landmines can be found (a mine detector does not currently exist). But it is slow and painstaking work because of the care that must be taken, not only to locate the landmine but to ensure that 100 per cent of the contaminated land is searched without missing any items.

The hard work has been done once the landmine has been detected and identified. The next step is to either destroy it in situ or make it safe (disarm it) and destroy it at a later date.


12. What kinds of methods are currently used to detect and disable landmines?

There are a number of tools to detect and destroy landmines, including manual deminers, mechanical machines and mine detection dogs. Using all of them is often referred to as the ‘tool box’ or integrated approach to landmine clearance.

Manual demining using metal detectors is the most common method to clear landmines. Mechanical demining and dog support do have limitations and need to be more focused in the right areas to maximise their impact.

Remote-controlled mechanical machines can be used to remove undergrowth and vegetation in preparation for manual demining teams or dogs to search the suspected hazardous area. They can also be used to flail the ground to smash or detonate landmines.

However, in some countries transporting a large flail machine over rickety bridges is impossible, so the solutions have to be appropriate.

Other techniques are used to improve the process: every time we clear a landmine we place a marker in its place and sometimes the markers reveal a pattern. This pattern will let our experts know if they can reduce the area by using machines or dogs to verify where no mines exist. This is called land release.

This method defines the area where mines are present, meaning fewer areas that require inch-by-inch clearance. We call this ‘area reduction’. Unfortunately, sometimes landmines are laid randomly, so every inch of the suspect area needs to be cleared.

The advantage of integrating these tools and carefully choosing what tasks they are assigned to results in greater productivity and quality of service.


13. Do you think efforts to remove landmines are getting enough support from governments?

Governments fund the majority of MAG’s work, and in partnership with these donors we have made a significant impact on people’s lives and safety.

Unfortunately, landmines are still being laid and left behind and, as with everyone in the mine action community, we’d rather there was no more work for us to do.

But while there are conflicts there are humanitarian needs and we will continue to push into those areas that need our support.

Our vision is a world where people can build their futures free from the impact of landmines and other remnants of armed conflict, and we will continue to work with others – whether that’s governments, institutions or ordinary people – who share that vision.


14. What is the Ottawa Treaty?

The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty is the international agreement that bans anti-personnel landmines. Sometimes referred to as the Ottawa Convention or Ottawa Treaty, it is officially titled the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction.

MAG’s former Executive Director Lou McGrath is co-laureate of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize because of his work in bringing this forward with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

The treaty is the most comprehensive international instrument for ridding the world of the scourge of mines. Eighty per cent of the world's states are party, committing to:

• Never use anti-personnel mines, nor to "develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer" them;
• Destroy mines in their stockpiles within four years of the treaty becoming binding;
• Clear mines in their territory, or support efforts to clear mines in mined countries, within 10 years;
• In mine-affected countries, conduct Mine Risk Education and ensure that mine survivors, their families and communities receive comprehensive assistance;
• Offer assistance to other States Parties, for example in providing for survivors or contributing to clearance programmes;
• Adopt national implementation measures (such as national legislation) in order to ensure that the terms of the treaty are upheld in their territory.

The treaty also doesn’t stop any signatory from using anti-vehicle mines.

Ultimately, the landmines that target innocent people and have already been laid still need to be dealt with.

See also: International Campaign to Ban Landmines website; Mine Ban Convention website






See also:

FAQs about MAG
FAQs about giving to MAG



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