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When an airliner crashes and 300 to 400 people die, it is worldwide headline news. Yet every month land mines kill more than twice this number of people and injure thousands more, with little or no attention by the press.

The most common form of mine, the antipersonnel blast mine, is not intended to kill; it is deliberately designed to maim, most often resulting in an amputated leg. Retired British Army officer Nick Bateman explains, “You kill a guy with a land mine, he's dead. End of story. But you blow his leg off, you tie up a medic for a day, and you demoralise his friends and family for years.”

In Angola, where there are more mines in the ground than people in the country, one out of every 140 people is a land mine amputee. With the average monthly wage on the order of US$15, a prosthesis which costs US$125 is out of reach of 90% of the amputees. Efforts by the International Red Cross and other non-governmental organisations to set up indigenous production of prostheses is beginning to help, but is far from meeting the need.

Finding and removing mines is dangerous work, requiring a yearly insurance premium of US$15,000/year for US$400K accidental death and dismemberment coverage. The high casualty rate is mostly due to clearance operator inexperience and error. Professional demining operations run by former military engineers and explosive ordnance disposal experts, using local labour, have demonstrated a near-zero casualty rate, but they are extremely expensive.