Common signs of danger

People who live and/or work in areas that have experienced armed conflict may be confronted with the threat posed by landmines, unexploded or abandoned ordnance, abandoned military vehicles and equipment, and other explosive remnants of war (ERW).
Below you can see how official and unofficial warning signs may look as well as other signs of fighting or military activity that could indicate that an area is dangerous.

Official warning signs

These are manufactured signs that are placed around known mined areas by deminers and local military. There are several different signs that are used in different countries, although all official warning signs are usually very clear and are very obvious. The most common official warning sign used is the skull and cross bones illustration on a bright red square or triangular background with warnings written in the local language and sometimes also in English:Normally the whole area is taped off with warning signs placed at regular intervals along the tape fence. The tape is usually made of plastic can be red and white stripped or bright yellow

Unofficial warning signs

In the absence of official signs, local people often develop their own techniques and signs for marking dangerous areas. Such techniques vary from one country to the next and even vary in different parts of the same country. With local signs there are no hard and fast rules and they are often only obvious to local people.




Signs of fighting or military activity

Any areas occupied by combatants, especially trenches, bunkers or battle positions, would likely have been mined as a protection from attack. There would also be a strong possibility for the presence of UXO and abandoned munitions. Usually contaminated areas do not appear to be significantly different from areas which are free of mines. Mines are difficult to see as they may be buried, or they may be concealed behind trees or in tall grass. However, there may be clues indicating that there are landmines in an area. Common indicators that an area may be contaminated with landmines/ERW include the following:

Man made indicators

  • Visible evidence of battles, such as shrapnel, parts of exploded ERW etc;
  • Damaged vehicles left on or off the road;
  • Unattended vehicles and abandoned military equipment such as weapons, ammunition or uniforms;
  • Any areas occupied by combatants, especially trenches, bunkers or battle positions.

Natural indicators

  • Dead animals with missing or damaged limbs;
  • Human remains;
  • Overgrown, unattended fields and pastures next to cultivated used areas;
  • Trees and bushes not collected for firewood;
  • Odd features in the ground or patterns that are not normally present in nature.

Craters from explosions or regular signs of repair on tarmac roads may be visible indicators, usually for anti-vehicle mines or signs of a battle. Be careful in surrounding areas as other mines may not have been cleared or may have been overlooked. In particular, never stray off pavement onto the soft shoulder or adjacent ground.


What do the dangerous items look like?

Below you can click to see different types of explosive hazards that can help you recognize them, if you should come across them in your community.

Antipersonnel landmines

An antipersonnel landmine is an explosive device designed to wound, kill or otherwise incapacitate people.
Different types of antipersonnel mines can be:

  • Blast antipersonnel mines
  • Fragmentation antipersonnel mines

Mines can be victim activated, as it can be detonated by being stepped on it or it can be triggered by direct pressure or struck, tripwires, command detonation or finally by a combination of these methods.





Anti vehicle mines

An antivehicle landmine is an explosive device designed to destroy or damage vehicles.

Antivehicle mines are targeted at vehicles as the name indicates. However, the mines can also be victim activated, as it can be detonated by being stepped on it or it can be triggered by direct pressure or struck, tripwires, command detonation or finally by a combination of these methods.



Unexploded ordnance

Unexploded ordnance (UXO) are explosive munitions that have been fired, thrown, dropped or launched but have failed to detonate as intended.

UXO include artillery and tank shells, mortar bombs, fuses, grenades, large and small bombs including cluster-munitions, sub-munitions, rockets and missiles.

In areas that have experienced bombing or protracted battles, large quantities of UXO may contaminate the land. In the case of cluster munitions for example, as many as 30 per cent may have failed to explode on impact, and remain a serious hazard for years after conflict.


Abandonned ordnance

Post conflict settings can be the site of arms caches and weapons depots or dumps full of abandoned ordnance (AO).

AO is ordnance that has not been used, but is no longer in the control of any particular force. AO could include mortars, grenades, bombs, rockets, bullets, artillery shells and so on.

Caches of abandoned ordnance and poorly secured or maintained stockpiled munitions, sometimes located in or near communities, in military buildings, public buildings, and school houses and so on, can produce catastrophic explosions.


Booby traps

An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) is a manually placed explosive device, normally home-made and adapted in some way to kill, injure, damage property or create terror.
Often UXO or abandoned munitions are modified to construct IEDs, which can then be detonated accidentally by the victim, by remote means (radio controlled, command wire) or automatically after a period of time.
A booby-trap is an explosive or non-explosive device, deliberately placed to cause casualties when an apparently harmless object is disturbed or a normally safe act is performed, like opening a door or turning on a television.
Almost any object can be made into an innocent-looking booby-trap. The most common are those that appear attractive or curious, such as a packet of cigarettes, a television, or a toy.