Saturday, 18 April 2015

Mines Awareness

In the last post, we talked about the walk we are planning, and how strenuous it is. This time, we want to consider why we are raising money by doing this on MAGs behalf

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Probably most of you, when you hear the term 'landmine', think of big round containers, half buried in a road, to catch tanks. This is of course true, and these are, clearly, 'anti-tank mines'. They require a considerable force to detonate them, usually the weight of a tank or vehicle.

Few likely think of the smaller and much more dangerous 'anti-personnel mine'. These are small, hard to detect, versatile in trigger mechanisms, and designed to kill or wound unprotected infantry.

From a soldiers point of view, I can appreciate the tactical applications of these devices. They serve as a means to protect an area, deny an area to the enemy, or to direct the enemy into a pre-determined 'kill zone'. Certain anti-personnel mines are designed to be 'command' detonated, that is, they are triggered deliberately using a hand operated initiator.

This is the ubiquitous 'Claymore' mine. Although designed to be command detonated and used in area protection, it is also capable of being triggered by a trip wire.

When detonated, this device expels in a wide arc hundreds of steel balls, lethal to hundreds of meters.

Unfortunately, of the millions of landmines around the world, few are command detonated. Most are entirely 'dumb', they just wait for someone to step on them, or disturb a trip wire.

The problem is, that often minefields are not marked, or the records are lost during combat or after the conflict is over. And mines do not sign ceasefires and armistices. They do not recognize white flags, or UN banners. They do not care who wins, or who loses. And they dont care if the person who triggers them is a soldier, a farmer, a man, a woman, or a child.

 Mines of this type are small. They typically contain very little metal, perhaps just in the trigger spring or the detonator, making them very hard to detect. They are typically coloured to match their surroundings. And they typically contain just enough explosive to destroy a limb.

Some, such as the one on the right, are 'blast' mines, that is they do their work through the force of the explosives alone, typically wounding only the person who triggers it.

 This is an ELSIE. A Canadian designed blast mine. It is very small, designed to be buried up to the rim, leaving the tiniest part above surface. It will take your foot off! It is another of the blast mines.

The mine on the right, is a fragmentation mine. This design is triggered by a trip wire. when detonated, it showers steel fragments all around it. This means it can wound or kill not only the person who triggers it, but those around them

 The last type of mine I want to mention is typified by the Valmara

Triggered by the slightest touch of its prongs, this mine does not detonate immediately. First, a projecting charge fires, which lifts the main mine charge into the air to about 1m - thats around groin height on an adult, chest or head height on a child - before the main charge detonates. These are known as bounding mines.

The photo left shows a MAG deminer working on defuzing a Valmara.

Its quite clear, that even on the largely clear terrain this one is in, its not easy to see.

There are millions of mines still in the ground around the world, most long after the conflict that put them there has ended. Now, the only people likely to trigger them are farmers and children.

But mines laid in the ground are not the only problem. Aerial bombing using cluster munitions, that is, large bombs that open during flight to disperse hundreds of small 'bomblets', have left many parts of the world littered with unexploded ordnance.

The country of Laos is a prime example. It is perhaps the most bombed country on the planet, despite not having been at war at the time! During the Vietnam war, parts of Laos adjacent to the Vietnamese border were part of the Ho Chi Minh trail -  the supply route from the north for the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Minh. In its attempts to shut this supply route down, the USAF dropped millions of tonnes of munitions, of which around 30% failed to detonate. The result is a landscape with around 80 MILLION unexploded sub-munitions!

 Vietnam era cluster sub-munitions, or 'bombies'
Almost impossible to tell apart from other stones and rocks, these remain lethal over forty years later.

The big problem with these, is that they are so hard to see, and when they are seen, often by children, they look interesting, even toy like. More modern sub-munitions may still retain their highly visible yellow 'High Explosive' markings. This is fine for identifying them to soldiers and armourers, who know what the colour means, but it also makes them appealing to children, who can think they are toys.

To make things worse, the same bright colouring has been used to identify air dropped humanitarian aid packages!

So these are the sorts of things MAG is trying to remove. Each one small, each one lethal.

I have deliberately NOT set out to shock in this post. Only to show the kind of things that are out there. In a future post I will discuss mine and UXO trauma and injuries. That post will shock, whether intended to or not.

Another near future post will concentrate on the work of MAG around the world, and how MAG are slowly finding and destroying these infernal machines, but also how their mines awareness eduction programmes are teaching children in some of the worlds poorest countries how to identify mines and UXO, and what to do if they find them.

If you have read this post and feel as we do that more effort must be made to rid the world of the detritus of war, then please take the time to click our link above and support us with whatever you can spare!

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