Antipersonnel landmines are explosive devices designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity or contact of a person. Placed under or on the ground, they can lie dormant for years and even decades until a person or animal triggers their detonating mechanism.

Incapable of distinguishing between the footfall of a soldier and that of a child, antipersonnel mines cannot be aimed. They indiscriminately kill or injure civilians, aid workers, peacekeepers and soldiers alike. They pose a threat to the safety of civilians during conflicts and long afterwards.

Angola Landmine (c) Tim Grant 300x160
©Tim Grant

Made of plastic, metal or other materials, they contain explosives and sometimes pieces of metal or other objects meant to cause additional injury. They can be activated by direct pressure from above, by pressure put on a wire or filament attached to a pull switch, or even simply by the proximity of a person within a predetermined distance.

Antipersonnel landmines claim victims across the globe each day. When triggered, a landmine unleashes unspeakable destruction, often destroying one or more limbs and projecting metal and debris into the wound, as well as causing burns, blindness or other life-long injuries. Sometimes the victim dies from the blast, due to loss of blood or because they don't get to medical care in time. Those who survive and receive medical treatment often require amputations, long hospital stays, multiple operations, and extensive rehabilitation.

Stepping on a blast antipersonnel mine will invariably cause severe foot and leg injuries, and secondary infections usually resulting in amputation. Fragmentation mines project hundreds of metal fragments, showering the victim with deep wounds. Bounding fragmentation mines are more powerful versions: they spring up about 1 meter and then explode, firing metal fragments to a large radius at waist height.

The Mine Ban Treaty defines an antipersonnel mine as: "a mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons." (Article 2.1)

Nobody knows how many mines are in the ground worldwide. But the actual number is less important than their impact: it can take only a few mines or the mere suspicion of their presence to render a patch of land unusable.