What is a human life worth?

That is the most controversial question in the field of demining. If a landmine cost “x” dollars to remove, yet has a  “y” percent chance of causing injury, at what point should we ignore the risk? After all, there are only so many aid dollars to go around, an intimidating number of landmines remaining to be removed, and a seemingly infinite number of other worthy causes competing for attention and financing.

In September we interviewed Canadian development economist Ted Paterson on this very question. Ted argued hard in the mid-2000s against a report that demining Cambodia would result in a net deficit of more than US $3 billion – an amount that should make anyone think twice about the feasibility and efficiency of demining.

Ted refuted this dire calculation, arguing that demining is well worth the cost. Yet he also warns that, although the inherent value of human life is unquantifiable, that should not prevent demining organizations from being responsible with the money entrusted to them. Is our insistence on a “mine-free” world actually hurting those who still live under the threat of landmines? Do we need to demine the isolated tops of mountains in Afghanistan in order to satisfy Treaty requirements, or could that money be better spent in more populated regions?

1. A New Episode of the CLMF Podcast!
Episode 3 of the Defuser is now available! Listen to Ted Paterson explain the economics of demining, the difficulty of predicting the true financial “cost” of landmine removal, and the inadequacy of Canada’s current investment in the issue.

Check it out here, or on your preferred podcasting service!

2. The UK Recommits to Mine Action
In early September the UK responded to the recent rise in landmine-related casualties by releasing £46 million in funding for the Halo Trust and MAG to continue their work in nine countries, including Laos and Angola.

The funding is the second half of a previous £100 million government commitment, and will support the deployment of UK-developed demining technology such as radar detectors and remote-controlled excavators.

3. Landmine Casualties Surge in Nigeria
The Islamist extremist group Boko Haram has been exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in northern Nigeria through the use of locally-made landmines. Between 2016 and 2018, MAG has catalogued 439 casualties from 144 incidents.

The nine-year conflict has now spread into Camaroon, Chad, and Niger, and claimed more than 30,000 lives.

Read more here.

4. Demining Begins on Korean Peninsula 
In late September, the South Korean military announced that recent talks with North Korea produced a bilateral agreement to remove all landmines in the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom within 20 days.

The DMZ and Civilian Control Zone dividing the two countries contains more than a million landmines.

Read more here.

From the Archives: The Landmines of the Confederacy
When was the modern landmine invented? According to archivist Walter Hursey, it may have been during the American Civil War, when a Confederate general used modified mortar rounds to create traps for advancing Union troops. The North considered the mines to be both shameful and cowardly, and allegedly took to making Confederate prisoners walk in front of Union columns in mined areas.

View the blog post, and a letter from a Union eyewitness, here.