Double jeopardy – during and after conflict: The human cost of weapon contamination in Asia-Pacific

Living in the shadow of conflict 

A normal day, a daily chore, a deafening blast, moments of chaos and then a life forever shaken and disrupted – that’s how victims of landmine explosions or incidents involving unexploded ordnance would describe what they have endured. For people living in places affected by armed conflict and violence, innocuous activities like a trip to the market, foraging in the mountains, farming or curiously picking up an object on the way to school can turn life-altering because explosive remnants of war litter their living spaces long after active hostilities have ended.

Besides continuing to kill, maim and traumatize thousands of civilians in many parts of the world, landmines and other unexploded ordnance impede access to health-care facilities, destroy critical infrastructure, hamper agriculture and trade, hinder the delivery of humanitarian aid and prevent displaced people from returning home.

To limit such suffering caused by war and protect civilians based on the principle of proportionality in war, international humanitarian law (IHL) requires states and parties to an armed conflict that use explosive munitions or are in control of areas affected by explosive remnants of war to take measures to minimize their risks and effects both during as well as after the end of hostilities.

Underscoring the importance of respecting humanitarian law, we bring to you stories from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Myanmar, Pakistan and the Philippines, of people who give a name and face to the human cost of weapon contamination in the Asia-Pacific region. Having survived incidents involving explosive remnants of war, they talk about battling physical pain, psychological trauma and financial setbacks and then learning to live and hope again with some help.

Afghanistan: Zamanuddin

School days filled with friends, laughter and games used to be the highlight of 12-year-old Zamanuddin’s life in Tishkan district of Afghanistan. One day in July 2023, as the sixth-grade student and his friend hopped along to school, they spotted something that looked like a biscuit on their path. Curious, the boys picked up the object and tried to break it to see what it really was. An explosion followed, ripping through both of Zamanuddin’s legs and killing his friend.

He talks about being overwhelmed with feelings of despair following the tragic explosion. “I lost my friend and was struck by the harsh reality that I may never be able to go back to school or play with my other friends or even get the chance to tell them about what I had gone through,” says Zamanuddin.

In October 2023, following initial treatment in his hometown, Zamanuddin endured a gruelling five-hour journey across 100 kilometres to the Physical Rehabilitation Centre in Faizabad, Badakhshan Province, run by the ICRC. He was fitted with prosthetic legs in March 2024 at the centre and has begun to hope that someday he will be able to walk again. “With the prostheses, I will be able to go around like I did before. It feels incredible to walk again. It’s like I am getting back what I lost. I am eager to return to school and play again with my friends,” says Zamanuddin, flashing his wide smile.

Abandoned mines and explosives continue to claim and alter lives in Afghanistan as a long-term consequence of decades of conflict.

In 2023, the ICRC recorded a total of 324 incidents involving various types of explosive ordnance that led to fatalities or injuries of 447 children in Afghanistan. These children represent 66 per cent of the year’s total civilian casualties from explosive ordnance, which amounted to 673 individuals.

To provide much-needed assistance to the victims of mines and explosives, the ICRC in Afghanistan helped over 206,000 people with disabilities in 2023 with over 133,000 physiotherapy sessions and more than 30,000 prostheses and orthoses to restore their mobility and hope. These services were provided through the seven ICRC-run physical rehabilitation centres in Kabul, Jalalabad, Gulbahar, Faizabad, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat and Lashkar Gah, helping people with disabilities reintegrate into society, secure employment and lead fulfilling lives.


In Tishkan district of Afghanistan, a biscuit-like object exploded and changed Zamanuddin’s life. H QADERI/ICRC

Source : Icrc