Colombia: weapon contamination

18-04-2012 Feature

Improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war affect the everyday lives of many people living in rural areas and claim direct victims, who have to cope with the loss of a limb, disability or pain from injuries.


© ICRC / B. Heger

People living in areas contaminated by improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war live in constant fear of this explosive debris and cannot walk along footpaths, harvest their crops, go to the health post or send their children to school without dreading an explosion. Sometimes, their worst fears are realized and they become direct victims of an explosion: the loss of a limb, deep and painful wounds, the psychological trauma of the blast or the death of a member of their family or community.

The term “weapon contamination” is used by the ICRC to refer to the presence of improvised explosive devices, known as anti-personnel landmines; explosive remnants of war, such as unexploded ordnance left behind after an armed conflict and abandoned or insecure ammunition stockpiles; and small and light arms. Although this problem is more evident in rural areas where armed clashes take place, it should not be forgotten that weapon contamination also affects urban environments, largely as a result of the proliferation of small arms.

Weapon contamination has been a problem in Colombia for many years, and new areas are being contaminated every day. Explosive debris is increasing in areas where fighting, attacks, bombardments
and military operations are taking place, and there is an even greater concentration in areas were illegal crops are eradicated manually, along drug trafficking routes and in places with access to natural resources.


Victims’ voices

“This is not our war.”

© ICRC / P. Jequier

"This is where we have always lived, because our grandparents, great grandparents and other ancestors are buried here. It is sacred territory, and we don’t want to move away because we own this land.

The community is very close-knit, but our indigenous people cannot live here in peace, because others are laying anti-personnel landmines everywhere and the land is littered with explosive devices. We want to go and harvest our plantains, corn, cassava and rice, but there are mines on our farmland and it is dangerous for us. It is a terrible situation and we need more help.

We hope that the ICRC will continue to visit us, so that we aren’t left on our own with our projects. What they have taught us is important; we are learning little by little, and the workshops help us to understand better. I didn’t know anything about mines, but thanks to the ICRC now I know something about how to stay safe.

We indigenous people are victims of a war waged by others, one that has nothing to do with us. This is not our war. All we want to do is raise our children, maintain our families and work. "

José Vicente Domicó Pernia, Cabildo Mayor (local indigenous government), Río Verde Alto Sinú, Tierralta (Córdoba)


The ICRC’s humanitarian response

The ICRC carries out prevention activities in communities in high-risk areas, advises victims of their rights, so that they know how to access the services that they are entitled to by law, provides technical guidance to humanitarian organizations and government bodies and provides support to victims of weapon contamination in the form of health care and physical rehabilitation.


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