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Aid for landmine victims lagging

GENEVA, Sept 2 – Campaigners on Wednesday called on an upcoming conference on the international ban on landmines to boost flagging assistance for amputees and other victims of landmine explosions.

Handicap International found that two-thirds of victims felt that their needs have been ignored in national aid, following a survey of 1,561 landmine survivors in 25 countries.

Only 36 percent of victims have seen progress in medical care since 2005, and just 21 percent found that psychological support had improved.

Unemployment among survivors is also a serious problem, and nine out of 10 survivors had the impression that they were last in the queue for jobs.

"There is a lack of focus when it comes to the victims… the report shows that victim assistance is still lagging behind," said Marc Joolen, director-general of Handicap International.

"Cartagena is an unique opportunity to change this," he added.

The second review conference of the 156 nation Mine Ban Treaty, aimed at taking stock of progress on implementing the treaty since 2004, is to be held from November 30 to December 4 in Cartagena, Colombia.

According to some official estimates in 2004, between 60 million and 110 million antipersonnel mines remain scattered around the world, with heavy concentrations in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Bosnia. These mines kill or maim a person every 22 minutes, on average.

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Stan Brabant, who heads Handicap International’s policy unit, noted that while the treaty dealt with the issue of arms control, it failed to provide much-needed support for victims.

"The mine ban treaty is fantastic except for victim assistance," said Brabant.

Firoz Alizada, who lost his legs after stepping on a landmine when he was 12, said he had been offered no first aid, no peer support or psychological support after the incident.

Due to complications after his first operation, he had had to undergo seven others in the four months following the incident.

"For the first, second, even third years, I was traumatised. Even now after 13 years, I feel I have trauma. It’s because I didn’t get the crucial and important support in the beginning," he said, underlining the importance of victim support.

For Austrian European and International Affairs Minister Michael Spindelegger, this was an "important reality check."

"Much more needs to be done. For us, it’s the time to listen, and then to act accordingly," he added.

The 1997 treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention, bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of antipersonnel mines and calls for mined areas around the world to be cleared within 10 years.

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