Running in wild and remote areas, or in countries that came out of a conflict, could present a potential threat to runners. There are estimated to be, in fact, hundreds of millions anti-personnel mines in the ground and stockpiled around the world. More than 350 different types of anti-personnel mines exist, and even if no more mines are ever laid, they will continue to be a danger for many years to come.
According to the information gathered from the extensive Landmine Monitoring Project by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, some level of mine contamination are still affecting these countries around the world:
Africa - Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Chad, Congo, Congo (Democratic republic), Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tunisia, Uganda, Western Sahara, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
America - Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru.
Asia - Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Georgia, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar (Burma), North Korea, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam, Yemen.
Europe - Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Slovenia, Ukraine, Yugoslavia.
If you do go running in any of these mined country, you should find out the location of the known minefields and stay away from them. At the present rate of mine clearance some of the most heavily mined countries will take decades before they are entirely safe. If you must enter mined areas, follow common sense and the basic awareness outlined in this article.
The following are the general generic messages used as a basis for most landmine awareness programme curriculum. These messages have come from years of testing and trailing in many different countries and situations. All messages would need to be adapted to specific country conditions.
Be aware of the threat
Mines come in many different shapes, sizes and colours. They may not always be the brightly coloured objects seen in the posters and displays. Age and weathering can change their appearances with the metal mines rusting and the wooden and plastic mines breaking down. On arrival in a mined country a person should visit one of the demining and/or mine awareness agencies to find out which types of landmines are found in that country (as well as the location of known mined areas, the official warning signs/clues, etc.). Landmines can be broken into 2 categories:
Below ground mines - Below ground (buried) mines can be as small as of a cigarette packet - which is capable of blowing off half of one leg, or as large as a car wheel rim (an anti-tank mine) - which will leave no trace of the victim. Usually these types of mines are difficult, if not impossible to see as they will be buried (usually to depth of 3-5 centimeters), hidden in tall grass, floating in water or lying under water. Although sometimes they may be exposed through the action of wind or rain. Below ground mines are designed to detonate when someone applies pressure to the top. The blast action severs the leg, inflicts damage to the lower body sections and drives foreign particles deep into the upper body. Below ground mines are by far the most commonly used mines as they are cheap to produce, easy to require, light to carry and small enough to effectively hide and lay. Do not touch any mines, even if you are told it is safe (even the experts have accidents). "Anti-handling" devices may be fitted to a mine, for example an anti-tilt mechanism that will cause it to detonate when tilted 10 degrees or more.
Above ground mines - Above ground (surface) mines are designed to kill and cause as much psychical damage as possible. They are also known as "fragmentation" mines because they are made to project large numbers of 4-6 centimeters sized metal fragments, at a speed of 1600 m/s, over a large area. There are several types of above ground mines such as, a "stake" mine, which has a grenade like explosive placed on top of a wooden stake. A "directional" mine concentrates its fragments into a predetermined direction so as to enhance the destructiveness and lethal range. A "bounding" mine, will jump out of the ground before it explodes. Above ground mines are usually laid on the surface of the ground, hidden in grass, placed up a tree or behind a bush. Commonly a tripwire is attached and strung across a path, so that when the next unsuspecting person walks along he/she will trip the wire and cause the mine to explode. Tripwires are thin wires that come in several different colours. so they can blend into the environment (green for forests, tan for sandy areas, white for snow, etc.). If you see a tripwire it must not be touched or tugged by any means. It is also important not try to step over the wire but instead go back the way you came.
Recognise areas likely to be mined
In a mined country before you travel you must make sure the areas you are travelling to are safe from mines contamination. If there are minefields in area then you should not proceed and instead find a safe location. This information can be gathered from the local mine action organisations (deminers, mine awareness NGOs, military and/or local authorities).
Mines can conceivably be found anywhere, where farmers work, where the villagers build their houses, in the forest where they collect food, around water sources and where they go fishing. There are some areas that are more likely to have landmines than others. Generally people should completely avoid areas where fighting has recently taken place, strategic military locations, for example military hospitals, secret bases, the perimeters of bases, etc. Areas that are overgrown with no signs of people entering should be assumed are mined and not entered.
It is vital to be constantly on the lookout for mine warning signs and clues which might indicate that an area is mined. Suspected mined areas should not be entered until they have been properly checked and cleared. Nonetheless, local people may feel the need to enter known or suspected mined areas in order to gather wood or water. Everyone should therefore be fully informed of mine awareness techniques.
Be especially careful around the following areas: abandoned military outposts, deserted villages, ruins, secret bases, high security places, strategic military targets, areas containing significant infrastructure, military warehouses, field hospitals, entrances to caves, below and around bridges, natural shady areas, overgrown areas, water sources, wells, river bank.
Be able to recognise mine warning signs
Normally the soldier who lays a landmine does not leave any signs to indicate its presence. Although sometimes a temporary warning sign may be placed by someone who discovers the mine at a later date. If you see one of these signs then you must presume it is a mined area and return on the path you came to find a safe route.
There are many different warning signs that are placed to indicate a dangerous area. The unofficial signs made by the locals and the official sign placed by authorities and demining organisations. It is advisable that everyone learns all the different types of warning signs used throughout the country. The signs used by the local people may not be the same as those used in other areas or by officials.
Unofficial signs - These are made by the local population and change from country to country and from area to area. Some of the most commonly use local warning signs are: crossed sticks, knotted grass, objects hanging from tree branches or on sticks (empty plastic bottles, rags, etc.), broken branches blocking a path. The materials used to make signs need to be large enough so they are clearly seen by others and not easily moved by passing animals/wind. As it is close to a known mined area, care must be taken to collect the materials only from the known safe path areas as you must assume all the other surrounding areas are mined. If there are no warning signs present do not presume the area is safe.
Official signs - These are manufactured signs that are placed around known mined areas by deminers and local military. There are several different signs that are used in different countries, although all official warning signs are usually very clear and are very obvious. The most common official warning sign used is the skull and cross bones illustration on a bright red square or triangular background with warnings written in the local language and usually also in English. Normally the whole area is taped off with warning signs placed at regular intervals along the tape fence. The tape is usually made of plastic can be red and white stripped or bright yellow. If you see such a sign you must go back the way you came and do not proceed further. Again, if there are no warning signs present do not presume the area is safe.
Be able to recognise clues to the presence of mines
Usually mined areas do not appear to be significantly different from areas which are free of mines. Mines are difficult to see as they may be buried, or they may be concealed behind trees or in tall grass. However, there may be clues indicating that there are landmines in an area. The clues may be quite obvious, such as an exposed mine or the presence of the skeletons of animals. Clues may also be subtle, like a slight change in the vegetation growth pattern, a small mound, or a slight settling of the earth. They may be man-made clues like the ones some soldiers leave when they lay mines, or clues in nature.
Man-made warning clues - Look carefully for such thing as: shrapnel; battle field marks; exposed mine; parts of exploded mines; trip wires; fuses sticking out of the ground; boxes or wrappings used for transporting explosives; discarded safety pins or initiation keys.
Natural warning clues - Look carefully for such thing as: skeletons, injured or dead bodies; changes in vegetation, or anything that is out-of-place in nature; a mound of soil or an indent on the surface of the ground; unnatural disturbances on the ground.
If you see a clue or anything you are not sure about, then presume it is a mined area and go straight back the way you came. Do not presume an area is safe if you do not see any warning clues.
Know how to protect yourself
Keep out of known mined areas - It is vital to be constantly on the lookout for mine warning signs and clues which might indicate that an area is mined. Suspected mined areas should not be entered, nonetheless, some local people may feel the need to enter known or suspected mined areas in order to gather wood or water.
If you must enter, find out the safe paths through the minefield - A safe path is one which is travelled frequently and which is known to be free of mines. When travelling far from home, one should regularly inquire about the location of mined areas, as these locations may change. Nearby residents usually know which routes are safe and which are not, though it may be necessary to ask several people to be sure. Ideally you should always run with a guide who lives in the area and knows the safe routes. All running should be done during daylight hours whenever possible because it is harder to see warning signs and clues at night. If you are unsure about the status of the area you should not proceed any further, return the way you came or else find a safe alternative route.
Stay on the safe path - When running in potentially mined areas, under no circumstances should one leave a safe path, even to go to the toilet. Do not be tempted to leave a path to explore or collect souvenirs. For example, ask yourself "Why is there still a lot of fruit on those nearby trees?". People running together through potentially mined areas should run in single file with at least a meter separating one person from the next. Stay close to the middle of the path because mines are commonly laid on the edges of the paths.
Do not touch - All mines are potentially dangerous with some containing anti- handling devices that cause them to detonate with a slight tilt. Under no circumstances should you touch a landmine, throw a mine or throw anything at a mine, kick or otherwise strike a mine, attempt to defuse or demine an area, throw a mine into water, burn a mine, go anywhere near a tripwire (as the surrounding area may also be mined) or collect mines for scrap metal. Even if the "expert" tells you that it is safe to touch, you should consider that "experts" also have accidents. Do not let curiosity get the better of your common sense and treat mines with the contempt they deserve. In mined countries it is not uncommon for people to offer to show you a cache of mines. The locals have been living with military ordnance around them for decades and may have developed a false sense of security around them. This is the time to be sensible and make polite excuses to leave.
How to get out of a minefield
There are several procedures taught to people about how to get themselves and others out of known mined areas, although none of these procedures are 100% guaranteed to be safe from potential injury. Note that none of these procedures can be learnt just through mass media and printed materials (such as this article) but must be learnt through formal training. They are:
Stand and wait - This is the best and most commonly taught technique, especially for children. Although this technique does rely upon the availability of a rescue unit, the ability to notify them or that the individual will be missed and looked for. The basic procedures for this technique are: stop walking immediately; warn others who may be at hand by calling out "Stop walking! There are mines!"; call out for help or send someone off to get a rescue party; stay where you are and do not move, until you are rescued.
Retrace footsteps - Another method for getting out of a minefield is to retrace one's footsteps. Retracing one's footsteps is not a safe option and can be an extremely dangerous method. In reality there are few occasions where this technique can be used as it is unlikely that you will be able to clearly make out full outline of your footprint, unless you are walking in soft sand, mud or snow. Technical experts must be consulted, and proper procedures must be taught through practical exercises and not simply through media techniques. Do not attempt to retrace your footsteps out of a minefield unless you have received the proper training.
Prod a path - Usually you will not be able to see your footsteps, and in some countries it may take days or weeks before someone could come to save you. In these circumstances the only technique available to get out of a minefield is to "prod". The aim of prodding is to probe the ground for mines, so you can step out of a minefield. Prodding is a potentially very dangerous task which is painstakingly slow but cannot be hurried. Because prodding is difficult and dangerous it will require substantial practice and is not usually proposed as a solution. The technique should be explained through demonstrations and practical exercises and given until the technical experts are satisfied that all the individuals being instructed are capable of using the technique properly.
International Guidelines for Landmine and Unexploded Ordnance Awareness Education, Unicef, New York 2000.
Unicef / Handicap International / MAG / CRC, Monthly Mine Incident Report, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. March 1999.
Landmine Survivors Network website, Killing Technology, http://www.landminesurvivors.org/killing/killing.html, 1998.
International Association for the Study of Pain, Clinical Updates: Volume VI, Issue 2, July 1998.
This article has been sligtly edited for content and style to match the needs of Run The Planet visitors. The original versions of the articles "Golden rules to avoid standing on landmines" and "Landmine Awareness Messages" can be found on the Tim Grant's website (http://members.iinet.net.au/~pictim/).