Kathleen A. Kassimatis

MPHP 439: Hlth Mgmt & Pol.

Online Book Chapter Draft


Landmines and Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) in Civilian Populations within Post-Conflict Developing Countries



One child was killed and another injured near here.  They were carrying sugar cane and one was also carrying some sort of UXO.  One of them dropped the UXO and it exploded.  My grandchildren heard the bang … they ran up to get the scrap metal but instead they found two children terribly injured.  One was torn open all down his front with his intestines exposed – his body was torn apart.  The other child was bleeding from lots of cuts all over his body and a big wound to his stomach.  When my children came home they were shocked and shivering at what they had seen.

-          Grandmother, Saloa village, Cambodia 2001[1]


            This story is all too familiar to civilian populations in post-conflict countries.  Post-conflict civilian communities are now plagued by land filled with mines and explosive remnants of war, known as unexploded ordnance (UXO).  These civilian communities did not lay the mines, nor did they drop the cluster bombs (unexploded cluster bombs = UXO), however they are now besieged with the task of clearing the mines and protecting and educating their children from the dangers of wars’ explosive remnants.  The once occupied areas have been abandoned, devastated and left for the refugees returning home to rebuild. 

This chapter will serve as an overview of the effect of UXO, including landmines and cluster bombs, on these civilian communities by providing information on the following: the background of landmine and cluster bomb use; the problem of minefields and UXO; medical, emotional and economic effects on civilian populations; and possible solutions to the problem.


            Unexploded ordnance includes any unexploded ammunition, including landmines and cluster bombs.  The history of landmines and cluster bombs are quite similar.  Both were invented to increase the already tremendous destructive power of other weapons.  Landmines were used as early as the American Civil War, but were not integral to military operations until World War I.  The use of landmines in World War I was a defensive strategy aimed at protecting an army’s tanks[2].  There are two kinds of landmines, anti-tank and anti-personnel. 

Anti-tank submunitions commonly contain a shaped explosive charge with a metal liner that, on detonation, becomes a molten jet capable of piercing armor.  Its effect is to kill or injure the crew, often through splintering of the inner wall of the armor, and cause the explosion of ammunition carried in the tank.  Most anti-tank submunitions have a secondary fragmentation effect caused by the disintegration of the bomblet casing into fragments driven outwards from detonation at ballistic speeds[3]   


Anti-personnel submunitions are more like grenades in size and explosive capabilities and are initiated by pressure or a tripwire[4].

            Unexploded ordnance (UXO) is comprised of any ammunition that does not explode upon contact with its intended target.  The most common UXO and most dangerous in developing countries are cluster bombs.  The use of cluster bombs began during the two world wars, but did not get extensive use until the Korean and Vietnam wars.  A cluster bomb is “an aircraft-dropped canister of small fragmentation bombs.[5]  Cluster bombs became an attractive weapon choice for militaries worldwide due to the low production costs achieved through mass production.[6]  In addition to the low costs, cluster bombs were able to cover a wider area than traditional aerial dropped bombs, therefore able to cause more damage.[7]

            Once landmines and cluster bombs received widespread acceptance and use, there was no turning back.  Landmines and cluster bombs have been used in almost all armed conflicts since their inception.  There are certain areas around the world that have been plagued more than others by unexploded ordnance including landmines and cluster bombs.  The hardest hit countries include Afghanistan, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and many countries in the Middle East and Africa (for a visual image, see: “Landmine Problem in the World”: http://www.icbl.org/lm/2005/maps/res/color/5-ProblM.EnglPost-LM2005.jpg).         


            There are many varieties of unexploded ordnance.  Aside from whether the UXO is a landmine, cluster bomb, grenade, mortar, rocket, etc., the shape, color, size, and materials vary greatly depending on what country generated the weapon.  Minefields can be laid in various ways.  Most commonly, militaries will employ engineers to bury the landmines; however, landmines can also be laid by specialized machines, or dropped from planes or helicopters.  Those laying the fields usually keep detailed notes on the location of the mines in the field for defensive protection[8].

Once the conflict has ended, active minefields may still exist.  The military that created the field usually does not come back and clear the field.  It is left up to the locals to deal with the explosive remnants of war.  Clearing minefields is slow and very labor intensive.  Those employed to clear minefields are known as “minesweepers.”  Landmines were originally made out of metal, but since industrialized nations are able to mass-produce with plastics, landmines are now produced with plastic casings, which make detection by metal detector impossible.  Some landmines have been placed on top of one another; if one is discovered and removed from the soil, it will deploy the other maiming the minesweeper[9].

Not only is clearing active minefields a big problem in post-conflict civilian communities, but so is the fact that some industrialized nations are still deploying landmines.  On March 1, 1999, the Ottawa Treaty went into effect.  The Ottawa Treaty is the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction.  In 1997, 122 countries signed the treaty.  Since 2004, 152 countries signed the treaty and 144 ratified.  There are 42 remaining countries that have not signed the treaty, including: the People’s Republic of China, India, the United States and the Russian Federation (for a visual of those who have and have not signed the treaty, see: “Landmine Problem in the World”: http://www.icbl.org/lm/2005/maps/res/color/5-ProblM.EnglPost-LM2005.jpg)[10].  The US refuses to sign due to the political climate in Korea.  The US uses landmines along the Demilitarized Zone in Korea and believes landmines are the only way to deter a North Korean invasion[11].

The problem with cluster bombs is slightly different than the problem with landmines.  As cluster bombs are dropped from aircraft, the pilots can never know the exact location of the submunitions and whether or not they exploded.  Post-conflict civilian populations in developing countries are mostly poverty-stricken and the civilians try to make money in whatever ways possible.  Many men, and older boys, will locate and take apart UXO and sell the scrap metal.  The explosives can also be used for fishing and quarrying, which can provide food, or be sold for cash to supplement incomes[12].

Civilian populations can become medical victims of landmines and UXO.  According to “Explosive Remnants of War”

Children make up a significantly greater proportion of UXO victims than landmine victims and are more likely than adults to pick up items of UXO that they find without knowing what these items are.  In many rural communities children are responsible for herding animals, a job which can take them over large areas of their local environment, and into unsupervised contact with UXO.  The size and shape of munitions may make them attractive to children.  In Lao PDR and Cambodia [and Afghanistan], spherical bomblets of the US cluster bombs resemble balls that children might play with.  The bright colours of muntions have been noted as interesting to children[13].


 Not only are the adult male populations in these civilian communities in danger of sustaining injury or death by their choice to tamper with UXO; their children’s lives are in jeopardy due to curiosity and lack of education regarding the dangers of UXO and how to identify them.

            Landmines and UXO effect civilian populations physically, emotionally and economically.  It is estimated that 24,000 people, mostly civilians are killed or injured by landmines and UXO every year[14].  The injuries associated with landmines and UXO in Afghanistan in particular, but seen elsewhere include: fatal, amputation, severe (including blindness, excluding amputation), minor, and those that are unknown.[15]  According to Morikawa, Taylor and Persons, “There are four distinct characteristics in UXO injuries in Laos: (1) At least one injury occurs ever other day 22 years after the conflict, (2) High incidence among children, (3) High case-fatality rate, (4) Multiple fragments injuries usually involves all parts of the body.[16]

            After the conflicts have ended, the civilian populations must get back to their daily lives, however minefields and UXO impede their post-conflict life.  The physical conditions are difficult for the poverty-stricken victims to deal with, as they cannot afford the healthcare necessary to treat their injuries.  Many of those injured will die before they even reach a hospital for treatment.  For the children who survive the accidents, their injuries are usually worse than adults due to their size[17] 

            Aside from the physical injuries sustained by the children, their economic prospects are bleaker than adult victims and the emotional trauma runs deep.  According to UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund):

The majority of child mine survivors have little chance of going to school, of receiving counselling and of learning skills that could help them adapt to their new condition. Stigmas attached to having a disability may prevent them from marrying when they are grown up; girl mine survivors are often even more socially marginalized and ostracized. For mine survivors who live far from a rehabilitation clinic, the trip can be prohibitively expensive, long and difficult. Therefore poor children living in rural areas rarely receive the long-term care they require. Children need frequent medical check-ups, and new prostheses need to be fitted regularly. As the child amputee develops, it is clinically observed that the bone of the amputation site grows more quickly than the surrounding tissue and may require several amputations.


Economically, child victims are a drain on limited resources. That they may be unable to contribute to family income or daily tasks can have a severe psychological effect on them and on the family. Landmines can also have grave consequences on children when their parents are mine survivors. Loss of employment and the deprivation that can follow directly affect children, forcing them to leave school, to look after injured parents and to somehow supplement the family income[18].


It seems that not only is a child’s own injuries a detriment to his or her life, but so are any injuries sustained by a parent.

            Adults are plagued by many of the same issues as the children, but have a lower risk of sustaining severe injuries from landmine and UXO accidents compared with children.  Adults also face marginalization, potential loss of education, employment and marriage prospects.  Adults may have difficulty assessing medical care and community rehabilitation programs.  As a child may be able to rest and let their wounds heal, an adult in post-conflict developing countries must have an income.  Therefore, they must go back to work as soon as possible, and possibly back to work in the minefields or areas of known UXO.  Post-conflict reconstruction of affected countries is difficult due to these social and economic circumstances[19].


            With the physical, emotional, and economical problems of landmines and UXO worsening every day in post-conflict, developing country, civilian populations what solutions are available?  There are many ideas and mechanisms for reducing the effects of landmines and UXO on civilian populations. 

            While laying minefields is simple, relatively quick and inexpensive, clearing minefields is exactly the opposite.  Of the many methods, the cheapest and most affordable for civilian communities is to crawl through suspected mine filled areas and insert a probe (i.e. a stick or knife) into the soil and feel for any hard objects.  Civilian minesweepers do not wear any protective clothing.  They merely carry large sticks.  However, military personnel, and other privaledged few have access to protective clothing including helmets, head-toe protective suit, and specialized shoes (images available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landmine)[20].

            In addition to mine-clearing personnel, there are other mechanisms to clearing minefields including the use of animals.  Dogs have been used for their sense of smell to locate TNT.  Gambian giant pouched rats have the required smell to locate the mines and are generally too small to set them off.  Recently genetically engineered plants have been sown over minefields.  In the presence of explosives the flowers bloom distinctive color.  Some militaries have even created large mine clearing machines (image available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Hydrema_mine_cleaning_vehicle.jpg)[21].  Kevlar protects the driver and as the machine rolls over the mines, they explode in a protected receptacle[22].

            The solutions presented above including the protective clothing, dogs, rats, genetically engineered plants, and large machinery is often too expensive for post-conflict, developing country, civilian populations and does not include plans for removal of other UXO.  Responsibility of removing mines and UXO does not fall on the civilian populations alone.  Industrialized nations and militaries have a responsibility to aid in the clean-up as well.

            There are other mechanisms available to help stop the process of landmine and UXO use and devastation.  Industrialized nations could ban the manufacturing of landmines or boycott those companies that continue to manufacture these weapons.  If certain governments do not agree with this strategy, the material in the weapons could be altered to ensure self-destruction or decay after a certain time period.  Ideally there needs to be a better international agreement and more pressure placed on governments that are refusing to alter their landmine and cluster bomb policies and procedures, as well as better peacekeeping efforts to decrease the need for such weapons to be used.  The most successful efforts so far are those promoted by heavily funded and staffed NGOs.  The NGOs are not only aiding in the clean-up process, but also in the public education that is necessary to protect the civilians from the harms of minefields and UXO. 

            The Landmine Action Campaign (a heavily funded and staffed NGO) has issued 5 recommendations for industrialized nations, militaries, NGOs (Non - Government Organizations) and civilian populations.  Their recommendations are as follows:

New international humanitarian law to minimise the legacy of future conflicts is urgently required. States Parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons should move with the urgency this problem deserves to negotiate a new protocol on explosive remnants of war. But there must be a recognition that the only truly effective way to protect civilian populations is by eradicating UXO, both in the immediate aftermath of conflict and longer term.


The key elements of a new protocol should therefore include:


1.       The users of explosive munitions, including cluster submunitions, should be responsible for the clearance of unexploded ordnance, or for providing financial assistance sufficient to ensure its clearance, without delay, after active hostilities have ceased. Where necessary this should be implemented by appropriate humanitarian mine action NGOs under the auspices of the UN, and in every case to recognised International Mine Action Standards (IMAS). Agreements to terminate hostilities, peace negotiations and other relevant military technical agreements should include provisions allocating responsibility, standards and procedures for signing off land as cleared.


2.       Technical information to facilitate clearance should be provided to the UN and clearance organizations immediately after use. This should include accurate data on types of ordnance used, geographical locations and render safe procedures.


3.       The users of weapons likely to have a long-term impact should provide appropriate information and warnings, such as awareness education, to civilians both during and after conflict.


4.       Given the particular problems caused by cluster submunitions, specific measures are also necessary to require military commanders and responsible politicians to minimise the density and size of postconflict cluster munition contamination by considering the environment within which potential targets are located. The International Committee of the Red Cross have proposed a prohibition on the use of cluster munitions in or near concentrations of civilians.


5.       The users of explosive ordnance should consider their responsibility towards the survivors of UXO accidents. As with landmines, people who have been injured or disabled by other explosive remnants of war will require at least some of the following: emergency first aid, medical care including surgery, physical aids or prosthetics, psychiatric support, and assistance for long-term social and economic rehabilitation[23].


These recommendations may seem a bit lofty to some, but the ideology behind them is heading in the right direction.  In order to really get nations, militaries and NGOs behind these recommendations a few steps must be taken first.  A top priority should be civilian educational programs providing information on what UXO is, how to identify UXO, what to do and what not to do when and if a civilian finds UXO.  Several NGOs have focused their efforts in this direction.  The cost is low and the benefit is high and can be immediate[24]. 

In addition to education, NGOs, governments and militaries should add UXO removal as a priority along with landmine removal.  Landmines and UXO are mutually exclusive in many arenas when it comes to dealing with their respective consequences.  However, as this chapter presents, their consequences are quite similar and would take well to analogous and simultaneous response.  UXO, including landmine, clearance programs should use surveillance data to prioritize areas for clearance.  If the education provided by the NGOs is accurate and effective, community-based reporting could improve the sensitivity and representativeness of the surveillance[25].  There are several international NGOs already launching programs similar to this including: Clear Path International, Landmine Monitor, Halo Trust, Mine Advisory Group (MAG); as well as several smaller NGOs within the most afflicted countries.  




"My mom worked as a street vendor," Suong said, "but she was very ill. My dad was the breadwinner of the family. He started dismantling UXO (unexploded ordnance) for scrap metal when I was in 4th grade. Sometimes I heard my parents talk about earning a living. My mom tried to stop my dad from collecting scrap metal. At the time, I wasn't aware of the danger of his job, though there had been some accidents in our village.

"This year," Suong continued, "I learned about UXO in school. I found out that collecting scrap metal from UXO is very dangerous. After I learned that, I kept thinking of my father's job. One afternoon, while I was helping my mom with housework, I told her I was worried. She encouraged me to go talk to my dad. After dinner, I told him what I learned in school, how dangerous his job was, and how worried I was. He listened to me, but kept silent. He went to bed very early and I heard him sighing that night.

"The next morning, my father told my mother and I that he would give up his job. He embraced me, which he didn't often do. I was too happy to say anything. My mom breathed a sigh of relief. My dad would be safe from then on. Now he is growing mushrooms and raising poultry[26].

            The community interventions sponsored by NGOs around the world are showing some promise in UXO education.  Injuries and deaths will continue in high UXO, including landmine, concentrated areas.  Until the global community can come together and agree to, at least decrease, if not eliminate, the use of landmines and certain submunitions as well as help educate the civilian populations in the war-ravaged third world, unfortunately, we will never see an end to the suffering.      


Clear Path International: http://www.cpi.org/cpiblog/archives/cat_landmine_ngo_project.php Landmine Monitor: http://www.icbl.org/lm/

Halo Trust: http://www.halotrust.org/

Mine Advisory Group: http://www.mag.org.uk/


[2] “Landmines: A Global Scourge” The Landmine History Page.  Federation of American

Scientists.  http://www.fas.org/asmp/campaigns/landmines/lmhistory.htm

[3] McGrath, Rae.   Cluster Bombs: The Military Effectiveness and Impact on Civilians of Cluster

Munitions.  September 2000: Landmine Action Campaign.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Cluster bomb.” Merriam-Webster online dictionary. 


[6] McGrath, Rae. Cluster Bombs: The Military Effectiveness and Impact on Civilians of Cluster

Munitions.  September 2000: Landmine Action Campaign.

[7] Ibid.

[8] MPHP 502: International Health Practice.  January 28, 2006, class notes.

[9] Ibid.

[10] International Campaign to Ban Landmines.  “The Treaty” http://www.icbl.org/treaty

[11] “US ‘hurting’ anti-mine Campaign.” BBCNews.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4056113.stm

[12] “Explosive Remnants of War: Unexploded ordnance and post-conflict communities”  Landmine

Action Campaign, 2002.

[13] Ibid

[14] Wennerstrom, M.; et al. Injuries Associated with Landmines and Unexploded Ordnance –

Afghanistan, 1997 – 2002.  MMWR: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 9/12/2003.

Volume 52, Issue 36 p. 859 - 862

[15] Ibid

[16] Morikawa, M.; Taylor, S.; Persons, M.  “Deaths and Injuries Due to Unexploded Ordnance

(UXO) in northern Lao PDR (Laos).” Injury: International Journal of the Care of the Injured. Vol. 29, No. 4, 1998.

[17] “Impact of Landmines on Children in the East Asia and Pacific Region.” UNICEF East Asia and

Pacific Regional Office September 2003

[18] Ibid.

[19] Kett, M.; Mannion, S.; “Managing the Health Effects of the Explosive Remnants of War.” The

Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health. 2004:124(6):262-267

[20] “Landmine” Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landmine

[21] “Demining” Wikipedia: http://wn.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demining

[22] Ibid.

[23] “Explosive Remnants of War: Unexploded ordnance and post-conflict communities”  Landmine

Action Campaign, 2002.

[24] Durham, J.; Gillieatt, S.; Bounpheng, S. “Effective mine risk education in war-zone areas – a

shared responsibility.” Health Promotion International. 2005:20(2)213-220.

[25] Wennerstrom, M.; et al. Injuries Associated with Landmines and Unexploded Ordnance –

Afghanistan, 1997 – 2002.  MMWR: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 9/12/2003.

Volume 52, Issue 36 p. 859 - 862

[26] Catholic Relief Services. “Our Work – Vietnam