Campus, News

Panel links poverty to land mines

Long-abandoned minefields not only threaten the personal safety of thousands of people across the globe but also the development of their communities, panelists said Tuesday.

The United Nations ambassador from Mozambique, diplomats and non-governmental organizations addressed about 25 students from the Boston University International Affairs Association as a part of a “Land Mine Awareness Tour.”

Program manager for mine action at the Humpty Dumpty Institute Steve Ginther organized the panel because “the land mine problem isn’t over,” he said.

The Humpty Dumpty Institute is a diplomatic organization that serves to improve the connections between the United States and the UN and whose current focus is land mines, according to its website.

Ginther said the goal of the mission is to link land mine removal and development of the area where landmines have been removed.

Panelist Robert Keeley, HDI country manager for Laos, said there is a correlation between landmines and poverty.

“Wherever the poor areas are, that’s where the bombs ended up,” he said.

UN Ambassador Daniel António of Mozambique said that land mines, left after a war for independence from Portugal and a decades-long civil war, have had had a detrimental effect on his country’s people.

“We do not have exactly the location of the mines,” he said.

António stressed that Mozambique is reliant on outside assistance for the removal.

Because of the need for outside resources, António said he had to ask for a five-year extension to the demands stipulated in the 1997 Ottawa Treaty, which said signed parties shall rid their nation of land mines in 10 years.

The presence of land mines prevents people in Mozambique from tapping into their natural resources, he said.

Kurt Chesko, vice president of a land mine removal NGO called HALO Trust, said once the areas are cleared of land mines, people will be able to cultivate areas that were once inaccessible.

In addition to removing the land mines, HALO Trust also destroys the weapons.

“These are the kinds of things that we don’t want to get into the hands of insurgents,” Chesko, who has worked extensively in Afghanistan, said.

Chesko also said that HALO pays local workers $150 to $170 a month to de-mine in areas where local teachers’ salaries are often only $30 a month.

“These are the poorest of the poor, they need to feed their families,” he said.

Many people still go into mine-infested areas to collect wood or to feed livestock, he said.

Keeley also showed an image of an elementary school in Laos with a bomb only 75 yards away.

International Affairs Association president and College of Arts and Sciences senior Frank Pobutkiewicz said that though he was aware of the widespread effects of land mines, the images that the panelists showed brought the issue home.

“It’s one thing to read about it, it’s completely different to hear about somebody’s experience on the ground digging these things out of the earth,” he said.

Pobutkiewicz also said that the presentation changed his perspective on bringing aid to mine-infested communities.

“Something that they did a really good job at elaborating on is explaining how land mine removal is the first step,” he said.

CAS senior and BUIAA vice president Raphaella Zerey said she learned new things about mining.

“I’m really surprised that the de-mining is really hands-on,” she said. “I never expected someone to be literally digging with their hands in the dirt looking for a mine.”

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