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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 11/20/21

Landmine Pandemic: Finding a Cure for Bosnia and Herzegovina

By       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   3 comments
Message Arian Berberović

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a region where war, economic instability, and environmental catastrophe were never a mainstay. Once known as the land that hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics - and historically renowned for its beautiful terrain, clear emerald lakes, and diverse multi-ethnic/multi-religious communities - modern-day Bosnia now finds itself in continual economic and environmental ruin. Sadly, despite the best efforts of international allies to try and improve the current post-war situation, one of the largest most seemingly insurmountable hurdles blocking Bosnia's societal, economic, and environmental progress appears as though it may never go away.

According to data compiled by the internationally funded and globally recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Centre (BHMAC), throughout the 1990s, amidst the chaos of the Yugoslav Wars, it is estimated that over 2 million landmines were placed throughout all of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On top of this, countless other bombs and unexploded ordnances (UXOs) were recklessly scattered about, littering all of the nation's regional terrain. In a collective effort to help rid the world of global land mine catastrophes similar to Bosnia's landmine crisis, back in 1997, the United Nations urgently ruled that anti-personnel landmines were to be prohibited from being used in any form of combat. This was done under The Ottawa Treaty, which acted as a convention to help prohibit the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines all throughout the world. As of today, more than 150 countries have joined this treaty; however, it was already far too late for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

According to the newest direct data provided in 2021 by the BHMAC, 118 out of Bosnia and Herzegovina's 143 municipalities are still currently impacted by the country's ongoing landmine crisis. On top of this, roughly 25 percent (845,163 inhabitants) of the nation's total population are still actively exposed to the dangers of UXOs. Out of these 845,163 Bosnian civilians currently exposed to the threats of deadly UXOs, nearly 132,803 of these innocent and defenseless civilians are located in high-risk danger zones where they deal with direct threats from UXOs on a near daily basis. Yet, despite the ongoing crisis, in these last six years, lack of funding from sources such as the Bosnian national government has led to the BHMAC's annual demining budget going down from roughly 45 million USD, all the way to 23 million USD instead.

On top of this, as recently as 2014, the worst floods in over a century hit Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the BHMAC, this rearranged many of the well-documented GPS coordinates for critical landmine positions all throughout the entire country. Suddenly, entirely new budgets were needed to be developed since entirely new obstacles were now facing both the general public and the local deminers. Alongside these recent flooding issues plaguing Bosnia, earthquakes have also been occurring all throughout the Balkans these last few years as well. They have most notably been hitting Bosnia's earthquake-prone neighbor Croatia, which has been known to have many regions that are positioned on tectonically active geographic fault lines.

Weather is unpredictable, and with climate change continually altering the world's ecosystems, there's no telling what Mother Nature could do to the landmine geography of the Balkans in the near future. Since governments are deprioritizing and prolonging the demining process in this region of the world, civilians in Bosnia (and the Balkans at large), are all being made vulnerable for yet another potentially massive environmental catastrophe that could easily result in the relocating of thousands of well-documented GPS coordinates for deadly UXOs. Due to this, nations like Bosnia and Herzegovina are not only in a race for more funding; they are also in a race against their environment's own biological clock.

Naturally, this level of environmental uncertainty has drastically impacted tourism in Bosnia as well. Famously, back in 2016, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) actually went out of their way to warn Poke'mon GO players to be very cautious when traveling around Bosnia due to the abundance of active landmines being found throughout the country. On top of this, aside from severely damaging the nation's tourism industry, the landmine legacy has also caused an unprecedented level of national economic stagnation as well. This is largely due to the fact that for decades now, previously available emergency sources of income (farming, crop cultivation, and etc.) have been heavily stifled by the presence of these landmines, which have been polluting many farming fields throughout the country. Bosnia's limited ability to produce food using its native land has been especially hard on the local economy, since the nation itself has historically been a largely agrarian-based society that has often used farming and crop cultivation in order to supplant the need for industrial employment.

In 2021, this high level of economic and environmental instability was widely recognized by an analytical branch of the Bosnian government called the Agency for statistics of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BHAS). In their research, they reported that for the last decade, Bosnia has averaged an incredibly high national unemployment rate of over 40 percent (with 2013 highlighting a ridiculously high 46.10 percent national unemployment rate total). During this time period, Bosnia has widely been regarded as being one of the ten poorest nations in all of Europe as well. Furthermore, according to Bosnia's own governmental statistics from the BHAS and data compiled by global organizations such as the World Bank, it has been cited that on numerous occasions throughout this last decade, Bosnia and Herzegovina has also held the record for having the highest youth unemployment rate in the entire world. As recently as 2016 in particular, Bosnia was routinely holding an unprecedentedly high 63 percent youth unemployment-rate figure, which was unheard of, even when placed in a global context.

In hindsight, this tragic youth unemployment crisis has perfectly helped encapsulate the dangerous multigenerational ramifications brought on by Bosnia's continual mismanagement of its own post-war reconstruction period. In turn, landmines have also caused a revolving door of catastrophe for the nation as a whole as well. However, it would be naà ve to think that a majority of Bosnia's well-documented national shortcomings were solely a byproduct of the death, environmental ruin, and economic instability brought on by either the Yugoslav Wars, or the ongoing landmine/UXO crisis. Massive ethnic rifts, post-war religious tension, and a heavily corrupted government bureaucracy have all arguably played much larger roles in directly leading to a lot of Bosnia's current unstable and disastrous situation. However, none of this nullifies the fact that contemporary demining activities going on throughout Bosnia have already caused innumerable amounts of tangible change, both on a social and economic level. This is why many foreign and domestic observers analyzing the situation for years now have all agreed that successful demining campaigns are vital for potentially jumpstarting the country. Yet, despite this general consensus, funding for important demining projects continues to wane. The BHMAC estimates that they will need roughly 196.8 million U.S. dollars in order to help swiftly complete their entire demining strategy for the country. However, with lack of funding being a huge problem moving forward, and with there being added pressure to clear out the landmines before another natural disasters strikes again, it's become apparently clear that when it comes to finding a cure for Bosnia and Herzegovina's landmine pandemic, time is surely of the essence.

Sources:

1. Agency for statistics of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bhas.gov.ba, https://bhas.gov.ba/?lang=en. Nov. 10 2021

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Arian BerberoviÄ" is a human rights activist and political science major whose family escaped to the U.S. as war refugees following mass killing events and ethnic cleansing campaigns which endangered his family during the Yugoslav Wars.
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Landmine Pandemic: Finding a Cure for Bosnia and Herzegovina

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