NORVANGLEE had his leg blown off below the knee when he stepped on a cluster bomb near his remote village in Laos in 1992. He lived in poverty, agony and despair for 17 years until 2009 when AusAID gave him a new leg and a new life.
Every year, in some 70 countries, thousands of people are maimed and killed because they've come into contact with an explosive weapon. Thousands more are at risk.
Often this is because poverty has forced people to take dangerous risks. Tomorrow, on International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, Australians should consider what it would be like to live with the threat of the remnants of war.
Australia takes a strong stand against landmines and cluster munitions, investing heavily in mine clearance, victim assistance and mine education. Through the aid program, we have cleared millions of square metres of land, educated many thousands of people about the risk of landmines and helped those affected to rebuild their lives and re-enter the workforce. Australia has also signed the Mine Ban Convention and the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Worldwide, the results of mine action efforts are impressive. Since 1999, more than 3760sq km of contaminated land has been cleared in more than 90 countries. Twenty countries have cleared all known mine-affected areas in their territory and 86 countries have completed the destruction of their stockpiles, destroying more than 45 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines. Casualties of more than 20,000 in 2000 have been reduced to 4191 in 2010.
However, much more work remains. The Pacific island of Peliliu in the Republic of Palau was the scene of intense fighting during World War II. There are still thousands of unexploded bombs throughout the country preventing the use of large tracts of land and posing a serious risk to residents and tourists.
Australia will this year contribute $9.3 million to support a range of mine action initiatives in developing countries including Palau. It will help Mozambique become mine free by 2014, freeing up land for poor communities. Australian support will also help Jordan clear minefields along the border with Syria, making Jordan the first country in the Middle East to be mine free. And in Laos our support will clear at least 5000ha of land for farming over two years.
Since 2005 Australia has helped hundreds of thousands of people through land mine clearance, mine education and victim assistance around the globe.
In Cambodia, our support has helped more than 10,000 victims of landmines to receive prosthetics, wheelchairs, physiotherapy and livelihood training, access to healthcare, clean water and latrines. In Vietnam, our support helped to provide prostheses to more than 17,000 people.
By working with partner governments, communities and non-government organisations, Australia is giving people opportunities to reclaim their land, their lives and their peace of mind. It is life-saving work of which the Australian community can be justifiably proud. The prosthetic leg meant Norvanglee could begin working as a farmer and earn enough money to support a family. Norvanglee was married to Yearyang in March last year and the couple are expecting their first child.
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