It’s an interesting time: the new corona virus – moreover the way the media covered it – shows how easy it is to inform people all over the world about something. Without going into debate about the correctness of information, nor about the proportion, it shows how quickly ‘they’ can bring a topic to the global table. They being mainly politicians, media, global leaders on health and economics. It makes me wonder: why is it so hard to get other messages across? Why do so many topics never make it to the global table – or worse: disappear underneath the table. In a draw, or simply ‘under the carpet’. Topics like: landmines for example.
How does corona virus affect landmines?
Being involved in humanitarian mine action – currently setting up a landmine victim assistance programme in northern Afghanistan – I experience first-hand how corona virus is affecting landmine action. Just 2 days ago, the borders between Afghanistan and Tajikistan were closed. One way: you can enter Afghanistan, but can’t cross back into Tajikistan. Why? Out of fear that people will come from Iran via Afghanistan to Tajikistan and bring the virus. So … there we are: right at the border in the Pamir region where snow started to melt, giving us the ‘green light’ to get back into gear and start-up operations again after the winter stand down. The area becomes largely inaccessible during the winter months and demining is inevitably put on hold. As soon as possible, the teams are sent back into the field and do their jobs, scanning the ground for landmines and explosives – step by step, putting their lives at risk every single day. Besides land clearance, we started a project to offer help to people who’ve lost their legs, their arms, their eyes, their husbands, their children, and their livestock to explosive encounters in the past. Late last year I came to the area to do a situation analysis, prepare all the necessary documents for the organization and the government. We obtained permission for the project; I returned recently to train local staff for the job. Everything went smooth – until corona came around. The team leaders for demining, mine risk education and victim assistance were all at the Tajik side of the border doing their final preparations when the border closure news came in: just one day before they would go back into the field. They are Afghans, so they could cross over. But all the material and equipment, the cars and ambulances couldn’t return to Tajikistan once we sent them in – and the donor doesn’t allow that. Thus, all operations are suspended until further notice. Meaning: no mine clearance, no education sessions about the risks, and no prostheses anytime soon.
Once again it becomes clear who is holding the strings. The ones who hold the money, and the ones who hold the key of the border gates – altogether it’s the politicians, comfortably sitting behind their desks, far away from conditions on the ground, called ‘reality’ – who decide about life or death, or in this case: decide about the acceptability of risk. Why do ‘they’ accept and allow the risk of death and lifelong suffering due to landmines year after year after year without a blink of the eye, whilst acting so stout-hearted when the world is watching? Why is a topic like corona on the news 24/7, whilst so many other disasters remain uncovered? Are ‘we’ – humanitarians in this case – doing something wrong? What can we learn from the corona-coverage by the international media? Is it necessary for the world-leaders to feel personally ‘threatened’ or directly affected by the topic in order to acknowledge the urgency of it? Once again, I’m not contradicting the importance of contaminating a potentially deadly virus. But the sentiment around it, the fear constantly fed by predominantly ill-founded information surprises me – particularly contrasting with other global emergencies among which landmines are only ‘just’ one example.