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May 16th, 2013

Unexploded Landmines Are Focus of Prince Harry’s Visit


Britain’s Prince Harry is in the United States hoping to draw attention to the worldwide problem of unexploded landmines, which kill an estimated 15,000 people in 70 countries every year.


Prince Harry tours a photo exhibit on landmines and unexploded ordinances with Republican Senator John McCain, on Capitol Hill May 9. The exhibit was put on by HALO Trust, a charity Harry’s mother Princess Diana had worked with closely.

Soon after the prince touched down on American soil May 9 for his eight-day tour, he toured a landmine clearance exhibit on Capitol Hill with Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, himself a Vietnam War veteran.

The U.N. estimates that since the 1960s, as many as 110 million mines may have been planted.

Prince Harry’s late mother, Princess Diana, worked with survivor networks to highlight landmine injuries to children and women. She drew world attention when she walked near an active minefield in the African nation of Angola to promote the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.


Princess Diana tours a minefield in the African nation of Angola in 1997.


The dangers of landmines

There are two main types of landmines; anti-tank mines meant to destroy or disable trucks and tanks, and antipersonnel landmines that are meant to maim individuals. Antipersonnel mines require only minimal pressure to explode and therefore pose the greatest threat to life.

Landmines were first widely used in World War II as a way to protect borders, camps and bridges from enemy soldiers. However, because antipersonnel landmines are cheap to make, they eventually became commonplace in civil wars where they were aimed at harming civilians.

In recent years, non-military groups have increasingly used landmines to terrorize communities and police their movements.

A U.N. report from 2008 wrote that landmines left over from previous conflicts still kill 15,000 to 20,000 people each year and maim countless others, mostly children, women and the elderly.

In 1997, 156 countries signed the Mine Ban Treaty, in which they agreed to stop production of antipersonnel landmines. However, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, out of the 12 states that did not sign the treaty (one of which was the U.S.), three countries, India, Pakistan and Myanmar, were still producing landmines as of 2009.

How do we get rid of them

As technology has progressed, landmines have become cheaper to produce and harder to detect. New mines can cost between $3 and $75, but can cost $300 to $1000 to remove. Some are small, plastic and colorful, making them harder to detect by metal detectors and more attractive to children.

Some demining operations use animals like dogs and rats to sniff out landmines, although research by the University of Montana shows that honey bees are the best living mine detectors. Other operations use mechanical methods like metal detectors or radar to locate mines.

After the mine is located, people will either manually disarm the device, burn it or detonate it.

Armored vehicles have been used to detect and destroy landmines at the same time by simply driving over minefields.

However, this kind of work is slow, and it can take years for an organization to come in and clear a field. One Afghan designer who grew up in a community dealing with the horrors of landmines recently gained attention for an award-winning wind-powered landmine remover that costs less than $60 and can explode several mines in one run. Below is a video profiling him and his device.


— Compiled by Allison McCartney for NewsHour Extra

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