Around the world, in more than 60 countries, more than 100 million landmines lie quietly in the ground waiting for action. The amputees are the lucky ones: the Red Cross reckons that up to half the victims die instantly or bleed to death, unable to reach medical care in time.
Landmines were first deployed during the First World War as a means of securing territory. These relatively unsophisticated weapons have survived into the age of computer-targeted missiles: state armies and armed opposition groups believe mines, costing
as little as £2 each, are cost-effective. They
are often aimed deliberately at civilians, says one expert, "in order to empty territory, destroy food sources or create refugee flows, or simply spread terror".
They are seldom cleared when wars end, and the charges remain active for many years. In Poland, mines laid during the Second World War were still killing tens of people each year during the 1970s, though more than 25 million mines had been cleared from the country.
By August 2003, 134 countries had become parties to a mine ban treaty. Eighteen countries have destroyed their stockpiles and the global trade in mines has dwindled to a very low, illicit level. But the 47 countries, including the US, China and Russia, that have still to sign the treaty hold stockpiles of some 200 million mines. Though eventually it did not use them, the US deployed 90,000 anti-personnel mines to the Gulf for last year's war in Iraq.
Adapted from Fifty Facts That Should Change the World by Jessica Williams, published 13 May by Icon Books (£9.99)