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An Anatomy of a Landmine Blast: The Report

Introduction

In support of the Government of Ireland’s ‘Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences that can arise from the use of Explosive Weapons with Wide Area Effects in Populated Areas’, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) has produced five reports examining the impacts of manufactured weapons with wide area effects commonly used in populated areas. 

Employing the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research’s (UNIDIR) ‘Menu of Indicators to Measure the Reverberating Effects on Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas’ (EWIPA indicators) as a framework for analysing the immediate to long-term impacts from the use of explosive weapons, AOAV has investigated typical patterns of harm produced by specific manufactured weapons. The five reports independently examine grenades, airstrikes, landmines, Grad multiple launch rocket systems (MLRSs) and mortars to draw out comparative conclusions about the impacts of these weapons in populated areas. 

“Landmine Explosion during UNMIN Training” by United Nations Photo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)

This report explores landmines, primarily manufactured antipersonnel (MAP) landmines. In contrast to airstrikes, antipersonnel landmines are typically light, low-impact and discreet explosive weapons. Whilst disaggregating weapon types when it comes to landmines (antipersonnel, antivehicle, unexploded ordnance, or improvised) is inherently difficult, for example some improvised devices use parts from old manufactured landmines, every effort has been made to focus on MAP landmines. Within this category, there is still great variance of explosive power. 

The tiny M14 anti-personnel mine contains just 31 grams of Tetryl. Meanwhile, an M16 bounding fragmentation mine holds around 521 grams of trinitrotoluene, also known as TNT. A typical blast antipersonnel mine typically contains less than 100 grams of explosive material.

Landmines are also victim-activated which means their detonation timing and target are both unpredictable. Some landmines, laid up to a century ago, are still waiting to be activated. This is despite the large global movement against the use of landmines – almost unique in its near international unanimity, aside from perhaps chemical weapons. 

Civilians continually make up the majority of landmine victims.  In 2019, at least 80% of victims of such devices were civilians – where the status was known – according to the Landmine Monitor. This is partly because battlefields don’t remain battlefields once a conflict is over, yet landmines don’t know this. In more insidious cases, specific civilian populations are targeted with landmines as a method of intimidation, revenge in defeat or even containment. 

“Landmine survivors, Phnom Penh” by Exceed Worldwide (CC BY-NC 2.0.)

The use of landmines is characterised by convenience. They are cheap, abundant and easy to use. This appeal has proved catastrophic for many communities around the world. Aside from the thousands of deaths and life-changing injuries that continue every year, landmines maintain a spectre of dormant yet sudden violence to those who live in their presence. 

This was starkly evident in South Waziristan, northwest Pakistan in July 2019. An antipersonnel landmine, likely left by the fleeing Pakistani Taliban a decade prior, was activated by twelve-year-old Faiqa, as she ran to join her friends’ game. She fortunately survived but lost her right leg, changing her life forever. Whilst we dedicate attention to this tragic incident, these events are by no means unique. In the formerly semi-autonomous tribal areas in northwest Pakistan, now merged with neighboring province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the government recorded 125 civilian casualties from antipersonnel landmines between 2015-20. 

By examining landmines globally alongside a single case study, this report aims to highlight ‘an anatomy of a landmine’ and draw conclusions on the typical patterns of harm this weapon produces when deployed in populated areas. 

UNIDIR Indicators

Published in early 2021, UNIDIR’s EWIPA indicators provide a reference framework for measuring the harm inflicted by explosive weapons in populated areas. 

The 28 indicators act as a ‘menu of ideas’ to better document the ‘knock-on effects’ of explosive violence and to highlight the ways in which explosive weapons impact the complex ‘ecosystem’ of urban environments. 

UNIDIR divides these indicators into four focus areas aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

  • 16 – Peace, justice and strong institutions.
  • 11 – Sustainable cities and communities.
  • 3 – Good health and well-being.
  • 4 – Inclusive quality education, lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Each focus area is further subdivided into first, second and third-level impacts as a way of mediating between the immediate and reverberating effects of explosive weapons. Altering the traditional disaggregation of primary, secondary and tertiary (or reverberating) effects, UNIDIR incorporates primary and secondary blast destruction into first level impacts, whilst dividing reverberating effects into second and third-level impacts. In doing so, the indicators serve to explore the multifaceted nature of reverberating effects, rather than viewing them as fixed, homogeneous consequences. 

UNIDIR’s EWIPA Impact chain.

Methodology

This report draws on two main areas of research, the activation of landmines globally combined with an analysis of an individual incident that took place in Wacha Khwara: a small village in South Waziristan, northwest Pakistan on 20th July 2019. Employing UNIDIR’s ‘Menu of Indicators to Measure the Reverberating Effects on Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas’, the report looks to combine a global overview, with a more forensic analysis of a single incident, in order to draw out conclusions about the typical patterns of harm that emerge when landmines are activated in populated areas. 

The details of the case study were taken from the 2020 article ‘Toying With Death’ by Sama Faruqi, in Dawn, Pakistan’s newspaper of record. All credit to Sama and Dawn for the original reporting. 

For global patterns of harm, desk-based research into landmines globally was combined with data from AOAV’s Explosive Violence Monitor (EVM) between the beginning of 2011 and the end of 2020. 

AOAV does not suggest that the EVM captures every explosive incident involving a landmine over the past decade. The EVM only records incidents mentioned in English-language news sources, and specific weapon types are often mis-referenced – or not referenced at all. As a result, it is likely that EVM data underestimates the full extent of landmines in the past decade, but provides a useful indicator of patterns of harm. Unless otherwise specified, data on the global use of landmines is drawn from the EVM.

The Landmine Monitor, produced by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, is also cited frequently for landmine-related statistics. It sources it’s data from national governments and international NGOs and therefore register a greater number of incidents than AOAV’s EVM. Though notably, the patterns of harm, such as the proportion of civilian to military casualties is very similar. (Monitor, 2010-2019: 63%, AOAV 2011-2020: 60%). 

The Report

Chapter 1: Global Trends
Chapter 2: Case Study – Wacha Khwara, Pakistan
Chapter 3: SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
Chapter 4: SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities
Chapter 5: SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-Being
Chapter 6: SDG 4 – Quality Education
Chapter 7: Other Considerations
Conclusion and Recommendations

Research support by: Ana Marija Apostoloska and Aisling Taylor


Series: An Anatomy of an Explosive Weapon Attack

In support of the Government of Ireland’s ‘Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences that can arise from the use of Explosive Weapons with Wide Area Effects in Populated Areas’, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) has produced five reports examining the impacts of manufactured weapons with wide area effects commonly used in populated areas. Each report is presented as ‘An Anatomy’ of a specific weapon type.

Employing UNIDIR’s ‘Menu of Indicators to Measure the Reverberating Effects on Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas’ (EWIPA indicators) as a framework for analysing the immediate and long-term impacts from explosive weapons, AOAV looks to investigate the typical patterns of harm produced by specific manufactured weapons. 

The five reports examine, in turn, grenades, airstrikes, landmines, Grad multiple launch rocket systems (MLRSs) and mortars to draw out comparative conclusions about the impacts of these weapons in populated areas.

More in this series: An Anatomy of an Explosive Weapon Attack


Related Reports: What is a Landmine?

A Khmer Rouge General once described landmines as a ‘perfect soldier’: “Ever courageous, never sleeps, never misses.” 

Landmines are a victim-activated explosive device, usually deployed discreetly on, or just below, the surface. They are generally divided into: anti-personnel and anti-vehicle. For the purposes of this briefing report by AOAV, we will primarily be focusing on the former. 

Some landmines, laid up to a century ago, are still waiting to be activated. This is despite the large global movement against the use of landmines – almost unique in its near international unanimity, aside from perhaps chemical weapons. 

Read the full report ‘What is a landmine?’