The just war in question is the war against landmines. Last week, according to the Independent, there was a conference in Colombia, where organisations tackling the clearance of landmines heard that vast areas of the planet's former conflict zones are being cleared. There is still much work to be done, but progress so far offers the hope that, one day, they will be eradicated. Clearly the news that Tiger Woods got brained by his wife (or something like that) was far more important than this.
In the past 10 years, according to the newly published Landmine Monitor Report 2009, more than two million emplaced mines have been cleared, and some 44 million held in stockpiles destroyed. The past year has been the best ever for mine destruction, with an area the size of Brussels cleared (I have no idea how big Brussels is but it does sound encouraging).
The worldwide campaign against mines has also meant that the number of countries using them has been reduced from to just two – Russia and Burma. Nearly 60 insurgent groups, from Somalia to the Philippines, have also stopped planting them. Only three countries – India, Pakistan and Burma – may have been producing anti-personnel mines in 2008.
However, the war against landmines is far from over. The Landmine Monitor Report says that more than 70 states are believed to be what it calls "mine-affected". And land that remains to be cleared adds up to more than 3,000 square kilometres.
The Colombia conference brought together representatives from the 156 countries that are party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Steve Goose, the head of delegation for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, said of the treaty: "It has brought about a near halt to use of the weapon globally, the destruction of tens of millions of stockpiled mines and a huge expansion in mine clearance."
Eighty per cent of the world's states have signed the treaty, with only 39 states not participating but these include the USA, Russia and China. That said, the US attended the conference for the first time. It has not exported anti-personnel mines since 1992, produced them since 1997, or used them since 1991. What they have not yet done, however, is destroy their large stockpiles, believed to total 10.4m mines. China and Russia are believed to have far larger stockpiles.
Despite the extraordinary work being done the problems can be immense. A greater tonnage of bombs was dropped on Laos in the conflicts of 1963-74 than were dropped on Europe by all sides during the Second World War. Even today, 35 years after the Indochina wars finally ended, a quarter of all villages in Laos are littered with bombs, mortars and cluster munitions, and there may, according to a 2007 Human Rights Watch report, be anything from nine million to 27 million items of unexploded ordnance remaining.
In neighbouring Cambodia, some 40 per cent of the population live alongside the still-unexploded remnants of war. Not only does this mean casualties (1,223 men, women and children from January 2006 to June 2009), but whole villages are unable to use the land they adjoin. In Phlov Meas, Battambang province, crops could not be grown. The community chief, Vai Chamroeun, said: "Villagers were afraid of mines so they didn't expand the land for cultivation." Then came the MAG team (Mines Advisory Group) , which cleared two minefields. "Now their lives are getting better," said Vai Chamroeun. "Today people live in safety." More than 90 per cent of them now earn a living by growing corn, sugar cane, beans and sesame; three wells have been dug, water filters installed, and there are plans for a pond.
Mines continue to cause thousands of casualties. Last year, there were 5,197 (1,266 were deaths), a terrible figure but a substantial reduction on previous years. While armed groups are impervious to international pressure, such as the Taliban who are planting mines in Afghanistan and Pakistan, major progress is being made. As Lou McGrath, the chief executive of MAG, "It is an enormous task, a never-ending situation. But the steps that have been taken represent a huge success. We are starting to win the war against mines."
There is a long way to go but it is heartening to see progress made in this area. The war on landmines is far from over but perhaps we will see an end to the deaths of thousands from the waste products of war.