Friday, July 13, 2012

Landmine: its also about food insecurity

I was browsing through the press reports about the historic visit of Laos by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of state, this week. This is the first visit by a US secretary of state to Laos in 57 years, so obviously there has been a lot of buzz. But among the dozens of reports I found, a particular one in a local (Laos) newspaper caught my eyes. The report, among other things, say that Laos should utilize Clinton's visit as an opportunity to clear its vast stretch of cultivable land currently filled with killer landmines.

Quoting Channapha Khamvongsa - an eminent social activist and the head of  the NGO Legacies of War, the report says that an estimated one-third of Laos is still littered with unexploded bombs from over 40 years ago, making land unavailable for food production or development.

It made me sit up. I was well aware of the danger that landmines pose to human lives. But I had never really seen the issue of landmines as something so closely connected with food production and food security.

The article really made me think of that now. And then I did a little more reading. I found that worldwide, there were millions of acres lying uncultivated just because some war mongers had planted landmines all over them. And what's more, most of these countries are those that are fighting poverty and hunger everyday.

Take Albania for example. Or Angola. Or Somalia. Or Libya . Or Palestine.Or Cambodia. Or Afghanistan. Everywhere, there are hundreds of thousands of acres land that are made dead by mine planters. If there were no landmines, and if those hundreds of acres were under cultivation, wouldn't it change the state of food production in the world today?

And this is the question that applies a 100% to India.
It is shameful and appalling that we are still making landmines. And we are planting them. Well, some of us are. (They go by different names: Maoists, insurgents, freedom fighters, blah blah blah. But they are citizens of this country, sons/daughters of this land. And they are making it uncultivable, dead. How sickening is that?) and we are still refusing to sign the anti-personnel mine ban treaty.

What's more,  we don't make public the information on how much land is covered by landmines. Also, we decline to report the progress made in clearing land of mines. That's what the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor Report 2010 says.
Now, according to the same Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor Report 2007, around 3,500 acres of agricultural land in Chamb in Jammu region (Jammu and Kashmir state) were mine-affected.

3,500 acres. Nearly 4 square milesImagine the amount of food that can be grown annually on that much of land! And that's just one district in one state we are talking about.

Imagine the amount of land wasted in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, the North east and all the states with international borders. And we all know, these are also the states/districts with maximum hungry people.
In fact, other than not being able to grow food, the areas with mines are have another problem: if you have to supply food or other aid there, you can't just drive a vehicle because they will be blown; you have to airdrop them, which is much more costlier. So you waste money again.

The question is, what do we do? I feel, its time we view landmines not only as something that causes injuries and start looking at them as something that is affecting our food producing capacity and forcing food insecurity. And then, the issue becomes much more serious, especially in a nation where  63% people still fight hunger.

It is also time to connect landmines with violation of land rights because the insurgent/political parties that call themselves the 'people's warrior', who fight for the rights of the tribal and poor people, are actually triggering more hunger and more poverty by crippling and killing their land with mines. 
Going back to Laos, .according to the United Nations  Development Programme, at least 200,000 additional hectares of land could be made available for rice production if cleared of mines. 

It's time we start this talk in India.

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