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A Small Ray of Sunshine

One news item that struck a chord with me this week was the announcement that the Falkland Islands have been declared landmine free almost 40 years after war with Argentina.

The Islands were heavily mined in the 1982 conflict by the Argentine forces, and it has taken 38 years to finally remove these hidden, deadly dangers to both human and animal life. In fact, there are natives of the Islands, born after the conflict, who have never been able to walk on some of the beautiful beaches. Finally, all the mine warning signposts have been removed, and the peace of the region has finally been restored.


An estimated 13,000 land mines were buried across the islands during the 10-week conflict, and a Government funded programme to remove them has been under way since 2009 as part of the UK’s obligations under the international anti-personnel mine ban convention. The 1997 Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty compels signatories – which include the UK – to clear minefields in territory under their control. On a day to day basis, a team of largely Zimbabwean operatives, highly experienced in demining their home country, risked their lives, removing and destroying landmines to make the Falklands safe for the Falklanders and wildlife that live there. The deminers had cleared more than seven million square metres of mostly rough countryside. But now, with completion Phase 5 of the demining program


me dealing with sensitive sites of environmental concern, such as Yorke Bay, have finally achieved their target. These brave people will now move on to other countries where their skills are still, unfortunately from a humanitarian viewpoint, still in urgent need.


One side effect of the minefields laid by the Argentinians was the unintentional creation of human-excluded nature reserves for penguins. Thousands of Magellanic and Gentoo penguins, who were luckily not heavy enough to set off the mines generally, although there were occasional explosions. Shielded from human attention, these penguins have had peace and quiet to thrive, as has the native flora and, hopefully, now people can once again walk on the pristine sands and dunes, this natural environment will not once again be destroyed for the opportunistic greed of Governments.


However, a potential hazard is tourism, a keystone of the modern Falklands economy. The Islands get thousands of visitors annually, mainly from from cruise ships and the danger is that this mass tourism traffic can easily reach the now open natural resources, with the obvious risks such footfall will bring. Also, with Yorke Bay being publicly owned there are concerns about leisure activities and livestock grazing.


The Falklands is facing a clash between the opening up of the formerly mined areas and the imperative for environmental conservation, but at least the remnants of hidden, deadly and inhuman weaponry have finally gone, and, for the present, full freedom of movement returns.

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