• Send page
  • Print page

Colombia: surviving a mine accident

18-11-2008 Feature

Although Juan still suffers from severe headaches and back pain and has trouble sleeping, he feels lucky: he is a mine survivor. He is one of the 2,000 civilian victims of accidents caused by improvised explosive devices and anti-personnel landmines in Colombia between 2002 and 2007.

Juan was collecting wood with his mule a few hundred metres from his village, in a rural area of Santa Rosa del Sur, Bolívar department, when he stepped on a quiebrapata (“legbreaker”), an improvised explosive device, which as its name suggests, breaks the bones of the lower extremities. The device exploded and he sustained serious injuries to his right leg, and minor injuries to the left.

The explosive device had been placed by one of the armed groups which periodically travel around the region. Juan was fortunate in that the accident happened close to a rural road, and he was able to drag himself over to it. One hour later, he had managed to flag down a passing lorry. Shortly afterwards, he was in the local medical centre; a few days later he was taken to the regional hospital.

Juan also considers himself lucky because he received medical treatment quickly, he did not lose his leg, he could return to work and he did not end up disabled for life. However, he earns his living transporting wood on his mule, and as he had to stay in hospital for three months until his wounds healed, he had no income during that time. Now he has to repay the loans he took out to tide him over and in addition, he does not want to return to the rural area where the accident happened, which limits his earning potential.

 Weapon contamination in Colombia  

Several decades of armed conflict in Colombia have had serious humanitarian consequences in terms of weapon contamination. Thousands of people, along with their families and their communities, have suffered and continue to suff er physically, psychologically and socio-economically as a result of the indiscriminate use of anti-personnel landmines, improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war. The presence of these explosive devices also leads to displacement, prevents the return of those who have already been displaced and blocks land that could otherwise be farmed.

Improvised explosive devices, commonly known as “mines”, are used indiscriminately for tactical and strategic reasons.

In 2007, around 200 civilian victims and 700 victims among armed and security personnel were recorded according to the Programa Presidencial de Acción Integral contra las Minas Antipersonal (the presidential programme for comprehensive action against anti-personnel landmines). Between 2002 and 2007, there were around 2,000 victims, according to the state register. However, since not all cases are registered, these must be considered minimum figures.