Landmines are explosive devices that are triggered by pressure, movement, or sound; they are sometimes detonated by tripwires. Landmines are also known as anti-personnel landmines (APLs) and anti-vehicle (anti-tank) mines. Anti-personnel mines are placed on or under the ground and are activated by the contact and proximity of a person. Anti-vehicle mines are designed to explode in the proximity of a vehicle, and are placed on or near transportation pathways and roads.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) defines an anti-personnel landmine as a mine designed to cause casualties to personnel. Anti-personnel mines have been used in numerous wars and conflicts, including the Vietnam War and the first Gulf War. Anti- personnel mines were created as a measure of defense, to protect anti-tank mines (anti-vehicle mines) from being removed by enemy soldiers, and also to protect camps or key locations.

The earliest known casualty from a landmine occurred during the U.S. Civil War in 1862, when a Union soldier was killed by a Confederate landmine. During the Russo-Japanese war (1902-1906), landmines were engaged on a small scale; by the end of World War One (WWI), the use of anti-vehicle mines and anti-personnel mines had become common. During World War Two (WWII), landmines were used in large quantities throughout war zones. In 1945, France began to clear landmines throughout Western Europe, and by 1950, several million landmines had been successfully removed. Nonetheless, some areas of France and Denmark contain hidden WWII landmines that are still dangerous.

Seventy-eight countries across Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas are known to contain areas contaminated with uncleared landmines, many of which remain hidden.

Landmines may be active for up to 50 years, which means that the effects of landmines may continue for years, and often decades, after they have been placed. By some estimates, up to 110 million landmines are still hidden around the world and could be triggered by innocent humans and animals that encounter them. The widespread practice of mining agricultural lands has rendered much of the land useless, even after wars and conflicts have ended. Mines laid alongside roads have disrupted the delivery of needed aid, and have caused casualties among aid workers.

While anti-personnel landmines were initially developed for the military, they have also been used on a wide scale during local conflicts to control civilian movements and to prevent access to farmlands. Minefields are rarely mapped or marked during times of conflict, so even after violence subsides, there is no knowledge of which areas may contain these dangerous devices. Furthermore, anti-personnel mines often injure the same people whom they were initially intended to protect. New technology has enabled landmines to be dispersed from the air and deployed in even larger quantities, with no subsequent mapping or indication of where mines have been dropped.

"Smart" or self-destructing mines have been developed to destroy or deactivate themselves after a period of time. According to organizations such as the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), smart mines should still be considered as risky to people and animals as traditional landmines.

Landmines may have devastating effects on innocent civilians, with far-reaching humanitarian consequences. Because landmines are incapable of identifying their targets and thus kill indiscriminately, organizations like ICBL believe that the use of mines violates international humanitarian law. As a result, there is an international effort underway by many groups to destroy all landmines, halt their production, and address the consequences of landmine use.

Landmine victims require extensive medical resources. Because many of the areas that have high numbers of landmines do not have advanced medical infrastructures, however, only one-quarter of victims who lose body parts due to landmine injuries receives appropriate medical care and rehabilitation.

Children have smaller bodies than adults; as a result, children are much more likely to be seriously injured or killed by mines than people who are bigger. Children's mine-related wounds are frequently devastating and horrific: For example, since children's bones are still growing, repeated amputations may be required to address their injuries.

Eighty-five per cent of the world's landmine casualties take place in Afghanistan, Angola and Cambodia. In Africa, there are an estimated 37 million mines in at least 19 countries. In Rwanda, about half of the 50,000-100,000 victims of anti-personnel mines placed since 1995 have been children. Twenty percent of children injured by mines in Cambodia die from their injuries. Medical resources may be scarce in many of the countries that have large numbers of landmines; often, children receive no or little treatment for their mine-related injuries. In El Salvador, only 10-20% of children disabled by mines have received any rehabilitative therapy.

Many countries have produced anti-personnel mines, both for their own use and also to supply other countries or governments with weapons. Landmines are considered inexpensive (at about $1 per mine) and easy to make. However, the cost of recovering a mine once it is in the ground may reach more than $1,000.

By the end of 2007, at least 38 nations had ceased the production of anti-personnel mines; as a result, global trade in landmines has declined considerably. However, 13 countries still produce or reserve the right to produce mines: Burma, China, Cuba, India, Iran, North Korea, South Korea, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. Additionally, rebel groups and factions still produce their own improvised landmine devices.

The Ottawa Treaty (also known as the Mine Ban Treaty) was signed by 122 countries in December 1997 and went into effect on March 1, 1999. Those countries that have signed have made a political commitment to the terms of the treaty and are legally bound not to violate it.


Landmines: Anti-personnel mines, commonly known as landmines, are placed on or under the ground and are activated by the contact and proximity of a person. Anti-vehicle mines are designed to explode in the proximity of a vehicle. Seventy-eight countries across Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas contain landmine-contaminated areas.

Landmine detection: Metal detectors and prods are thought to be the most reliable means of detecting landmines. Mechanical flails and ground sifters may be faster in detection, but are considered to be less-reliable technologies. Non-detectable mines are invisible to standard metal detectors, and other techniques used to recover the devices are difficult and costly. Mine-sniffing dogs are also used to facilitate mine clearing. Mine-clearing methods that are currently under development make use of biologically-inspired detection technology; this type of equipment is sensitive to the odor of landmine components, such as the explosive materials that are commonly found inside the devices. New biotechnology and microbial techniques are also being developed and may soon be used to detect landmines.

Landmine removal: Typically, mines are destroyed at the scene with explosives, or they may be physically removed. "Smart" mines self-destruct within an allotted time frame, typically from hours to days of placement, which makes their removal much less dangerous.

"Mine action" (previously referred to as "demining") is a term that has been coined to include all aspects of mitigating the consequences of landmines, including their removal. The term "demining" was discarded because it did not sufficiently encompass all aspects of work associated with the impact of mines. Mine action entails more than just the removal of landmines: It includes advocating for a mine-free world and educating those at risk who live in mine-affected areas. The safe removal of unexploded ordnance (UXO), consisting of bombs, mortars, grenades, missiles and other devices that fail to detonate, is also part of mine action. Most mine action programs around the world focus on removing and destroying landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW). These actions may include the fencing off of mine-contaminated areas until bomb removal is possible. It is also important to educate residents about landmine risks, how to identify mines and ERW, and how to provide medical assistance and rehabilitation services to victims.

By late 2006, Nicaragua had successfully de-mined and disposed of 160,000 mines that had been placed within the country during internal fighting in the 1980s. Serious de-mining efforts were begun in 1989, using available maps of 136,000 mine locations. With help from the international community, tens of thousands of unmapped mines have been located and disposed of. Members of the Nicaraguan military have since instructed and assisted the militaries in Ecuador and Colombia with the locating and disabling of mines in their own countries.

The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in October of 1980 marked the first international effort to regulate landmines. In 1988, the United States helped establish a program intended to clear landmines in Afghanistan: This program is now known as the Mine Action Program for Afghanistan (MAPA). The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) was formed in 1992 and today is the largest mine action network, bringing together more than 1400 humanitarian organizations.

In the 1990s, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stated that anti-personnel mines had created an epidemic of exceptionally severe injuries, suffering and death.

The first report estimating the scope of the threat of landmines was released in December 1994 by the U.S. Department of State's Office of Humanitarian Demining Programs; in 2003, this agency was renamed the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement. The Landmine Monitor Report, a comprehensive reference guide of landmine statistics, was first released in June 1998 from the ICBL. The first national landmine survey was completed in Yemen in 2000.

Landmine bans: The Ottawa Treaty (also known as the Mine Ban Treaty) was signed by 122 countries in December 1997 and went into effect on March 1, 1999. Those countries that have signed have made a political commitment to the terms of the treaty and are legally bound not to violate it.

The United States is not party to the Ottawa Convention. However, in 1996, President Bill Clinton ordered the destruction of almost all U.S. non-self-destructing anti-personnel landmines by the end of 1999. The directive stated that the U.S. should stockpile one million non-self-destructing landmines on the Korean Peninsula; in addition, a small number of landmines should be retained for demining training purposes. The Department of Defense (DOD) states that it is committed to identifying suitable alternatives to anti-personnel landmines. In 2005, the United States banned the use of non-detectable landmines; this action follows the U.S.'s 1992 ban on the export of anti-personnel landmines. However, this ban was set to expire in 2008.

Mine action progress: There has been marked progress in mine action around the globe since the Ottawa Convention entered into force in March 1999.

The anti-personnel mine ban is becoming universal. Only three legitimate governments (Myanmar, Nepal, and Russia) still made use of anti-personnel mines between May 2005 and the end of 2006. According to the Landmine Monitor, Myanmar, Russia and various armed groups also continued to use mines in 2008. Production of mines in general has decreased, and the global trade has practically stopped.

Those states who are party to the Ottawa Treaty have destroyed about 40 million anti-personnel mines. Moreover, 143 countries no longer have any stockpiles of anti-personnel mines. Demining activities are taking place in most states countries that have significant areas of mine contamination, and seven states have completed their mine clearance actions. More significantly, the ICRC has found that the numbers of new mine victims have dropped by up to two- thirds in areas where the Treaty requirements are being implemented.


A fundamental requirement of international humanitarian law during wartime is that the parties in conflict must be able to distinguish between civilians and soldiers. By their very nature, anti-personnel mines cause destruction to any people or things that come into contact with them, regardless of military or civilian status; in addition, mines may remain active for several decades after they are placed. Thus, the use of landmines is considered to be in violation of international humanitarian law. Injuries sustained by anti-personnel mines are often horrific, and surgeons consider these wounds difficult to treat. Typically, survivors must endure amputations, multiple operations, and lengthy physical rehabilitation.

International humanitarian demining efforts include the surveying, mapping, marking, and clearance of mines, as well as post-clearance documentation and the handover of cleared land. Demining efforts often include the removal of other explosive remnants of war (ERW) such as grenades, bombs, artillery shells, and cluster munitions. Cluster munitions are delivered by air and artillery, typically releasing dozens of explosive submunitions; submunitions include items such as grenades and "bomblets." These objects are intended to explode upon impact, yet a large percentage of them land in areas that are too soft to activate the devices. When cluster munitions fail to detonate, they may become as deadly, and wound people as indiscriminately, as landmines. The correct mapping of mine locations is an extremely difficult and time-consuming process, even for professional military operations.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has found no clear evidence that anti-personnel landmines are indispensable weapons. Indeed, a study commissioned by the ICRC states that the use of anti-personnel landmines has rarely occurred in accordance with military doctrine under combat conditions.

The United States stockpiles landmines and other munitions in a number of locations, including Korea. The U.S. government states that self-destructing mines do not leave a long-term, harmful legacy and that these items pose little risk to civilians. Self-destructing mines (also known as "smart" mines) explode after a given period of time; the explosion may occur in as little as four hours, or as long as 15 days. Currently, the United States is developing landmines with remote-control capability.

While the United States has been criticized because of its reluctance to join the international community and sign the Ottawa Convention, it has signed and ratified another landmine treaty: the Amended Mines Protocol to the Convention on Conventional Weapons. The United States is also a party to the more general Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), which includes restrictions on the use and transfer of anti-vehicle and anti-personnel mines. Moreover, the United States is a party to numerous Geneva Conventions on the laws of war, as well as to the International Test and Evaluation Program for Humanitarian Demining. The International Test and Evaluation Program for Humanitarian Demining encourages the development and sharing of new technologies for demining activities.

Since 1993, the United States has provided close to $800 million towards humanitarian mine action; it also funded the first demining program in Afghanistan in 1988. Even though the United States was not a signatory to the Ottawa Convention, it still destroyed over 3.3 million of its own non-self-destructing anti-personnel landmines by June 1998. In 2005, the United States banned the use of all non-detectable, anti-vehicle, and anti-personnel landmines. Between 1992 and 2005, America invested $2.9 billion in mine action activities such as mine clearance, stockpile destruction, and victim assistance.

The United States claims that landmines still have a valid and essential role in military operations, by allowing commanders to shape the battlefield to their advantage. In addition, landmines give the enemy less freedom to maneuver and they enhance the effectiveness of other weapons used against enemy forces.

In February 2004, the United States announced its new landmine policy. The policy included the following provisions: 1) a commitment to stop using any persistent anti-personnel or anti-vehicle mines after 2010 (only short duration or retrievable self-destructing/self-deactivating mines would be used, if necessary); 2) a ban on the use of non-detectable landmines after 2004; 3) a commitment to seeking a worldwide ban on the sale or export of all persistent mines; 4) the continuation of research and development of self-destructing/self-deactivating landmines that will not pose a humanitarian threat after battle, but will still enhance and preserve U.S. military capabilities; and 5) a 50% increase in the U.S. Department of State's portion of the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program from its baseline fiscal year 2003 budget.

In November 2007, Richard Kidd (Director of the U.S. Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement) announced that as of 2010, the United States would never leave a landmine behind that may be a threat to civilians.


Landmine casualties: Landmines cause severe, debilitating injuries such as blindness, burns, shattered limbs, and shrapnel wounds. Often, blast victims have lost so much blood and have not received enough timely medical attention that they die from their injuries. Survivors may require amputations and extensive rehabilitation. Between 1980 and 1993, the rate of landmine-related injuries doubled to an estimated 2,000 deaths or injuries per month. People who have been injured by landmines, relative to other war-related injuries, require almost three times the number of blood transfusions and four times the number of surgical procedures. These requirements may place a strain on already-limited health care resources.

By the end of the 1990s, there were an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 annual landmine- and unexploded-ordnance (UXO) casualties: about 1,500 new casualties each month, or 40 new casualties per day worldwide. In 2007, there was a significant drop in the number of casualties from mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW); there were 5,751 casualties in 2006. ERW includes rockets, missiles, mortar shells, artillery shells, grenades, submunitions, and other explosive devices.

Civilians living in countries that are no longer in conflict are the most recent landmine casualties. For example, of the more than 43,000 survivors of landmine explosions in Cambodia between 1979 and 2007, 75% were civilians. Landmines must be physically removed in order to be immobilized and cannot be put away like guns during times of ceasefire or peace.

Social and environmental impact: The consequences of exploding landmines extend well beyond the devastating physical injuries that they inflict. Even small numbers of mines may have serious consequences: Areas where landmines have been placed are essentially useless until the region has been properly investigated and cleared.

Land that has been seeded with mines becomes unusable for farming, and it also hinders the delivery of aid to the region. The cost of landmine removal and the resources needed to assist landmine survivors may be enormous. Additionally, the loss of individual laborers to landmine explosions may have economic consequences for communities and businesses. Mines kill animals as well as livestock. Along with the medical, economic, and environmental costs within a nation, the consequences of landmine use extend into the international community and within aid organizations that assist in affected areas. There have been reports of public health workers being injured by landmines.

The environmental health consequences of landmines are far-reaching. Mines that surround wells may limit access to safe drinking water, increasing the possibility of disease and malnutrition. Also, overcrowding may result from the loss of land that has been seeded with mines; this overcrowding allows for the easier spread of infectious diseases. Furthermore, resources must be spent on landmine victims instead of other health priorities, such as vaccinations and maternity care. The economic consequences of landmines are significant, since the cost of removing mines may add up to $1,000 per mine, and the cost of treating a single victim averages $3,000-$5,000. Often countries that are heavily contaminated with mines do not have the economic resources to clear their lands and care for victims; they must depend on the international community for assistance.

Affected regions: The U.S. State Department reports that Afghanistan is one of the countries with the highest numbers of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). In 2000, there were more than 2,400 Afghan causalities from mines and other UXO.

Chechnya is another region that has been greatly affected by the placement of landmines and UXO. Research shows that in 2000, Chechnyan people were injured from landmines at a rate of 6.6 per 10,000 people, dropping slightly in 2001 to an injury rate of 5.9 per 10,000 citizens. Fatalities accounted for 23% of all victims. Forty per cent of injuries were caused by landmines, 30% by UXO, and 7% by booby traps. The incidence of upper limb amputations was three times higher in children than in adults, whereas the numbers of lower limb amputations were equivalent. One decade-long study revealed that Chechnyan civilians experienced the highest rates of landmine injury ever documented, significantly higher than other severely-affected countries such as Afghanistan and Cambodia.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) collected data on landmine and UXO injuries in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2006 by interviewing victims and the family members of those who were killed. Of 5,471 individuals who were injured or killed, 91% were male, and 47% were children under the age of 18.

The study reported that among children, 65% of injuries were caused by UXO, and 27% by landmines. In adults, 56% of injuries were caused by landmines. The numbers of upper limb amputations were comparable to those reported in the Chechnyan study.

Between 1944 and 1989, 4,094 people died from injuries sustained from ERW, and 8,774 people were injured. Even though fighting ended in Laos in 1975, it is estimated that up to 27 million unexploded submunitions still remain hidden. About 11,000 people have been maimed in Laos by ERW, and at least 30% of those injured were children. Other areas that have been seriously affected by landmines and ERW include Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Sudan. According to the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre in Southern Lebanon, during a short-lived conflict in Lebanon in 2006, over 35 million square meters of land became contaminated with ERW; in addition, more than 200 civilians have been killed or injured by these explosives since the fighting ceased.

Between 1993 and 2001, the United States provided almost $28 million in support of mine action initiatives created by the U.N.'s Mine Action Program for Afghanistan (MAPA). The landmine casualty rate between 1998 and 2001 was reduced by 50%, and mine-contaminated areas were reduced by more than 224 square kilometers. About 210,000 landmines and 985,000 pieces of UXO were destroyed during this time frame. MAPA has coordinated the efforts of local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for this initiative; as a result, more than 1.5 million Afghans have been able to return to their homes, creating a $55 million increase in agricultural and livestock production values. At the end of 2007, the government of Canada pledged $80 million over four years to MAPA for its demining efforts in Afghanistan.


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is highly critical of anti-personnel mines and their impact on civilians: Even when anti-personnel landmines in civilian areas include self-destruct technologies, they have little impact on military targets and are consequently not valid weapons of war. In addition, the ICRC examined the use of mines in 26 conflicts; they found that armed forces using landmines were at risk of being seriously injury by their own mines.

In order to reduce the number of mine-contaminated areas, more training is needed for local mine clearance teams. Standardized mine-clearing techniques also need to be implemented on a global basis.

In December 2008, the United Nations released its annual portfolio of mine action projects. Proposed mine action initiatives will cost $459 million in 2009; however, only 5% of needed funding has been secured. Afghanistan and Sudan have the largest funding gaps at, respectively, $104 million and $81 million.


This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (

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