I FOUND myself at Westminster earlier this week in a room full of bomb disposal experts. As keynote speaker, I was there to address the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Explosive Threats about what I’d witnessed recently in northern Iraq.

The term explosive threats covers many types of devices from landmines to sophisticated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to rudimentary booby traps. Each has one thing in common: the capacity to maim and kill. Along with those whose job it is to neutralise such devastating weapons, the audience at the APPG also consisted of politicians and humanitarians, those who legislate and lobby against the use of IEDs and deal with the terrible human cost.

One of those ordnance disposal specialists on Wednesday evening was a Yorkshireman called Paul Heslop, who now serves as the Chief of Programme Planning and Management at the United Nations Mine Action Service (Unmas).

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It was he who, in January 1997, accompanied Princess Diana when those famous pictures of her were taken in Angola visiting de-miners in an active minefield that helped bring home the threat of such weapons to a much wider audience. That was 20 years ago and, while one might have hoped by now that the horrors created by landmines and similar devices would be consigned to the past, nothing could be further from the truth.

In the past few days reports have surfaced of Muslim Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar (formerly Burma) into Bangladesh being maimed by landmines allegedly laid by the Myanmar army. In one instance, an elderly woman was discovered with devastating leg wounds. Relatives said she had stepped on a landmine.

According to Amnesty International, Myanmar has one of the few militaries, along with North Korea and Syria, that has openly used anti-personnel mines in recent years, despite a high profile campaign that culminated in 162 countries signing the 1997 Ottawa Treaty pledging to stop their production and use. By the mid-1990s and the time of the treaty, these indiscriminate and sinister weapons were killing something like 26,000 people every year.

Landmines first came into widespread use in the Second World War. Many were left buried in the ground in regions of conflict long after the fighting had ended, causing them to be detonated by civilians inadvertently stepping on them.

But since the 1997 treaty many other non-state actors such as guerilla groups, militias and terrorists have made widespread use of landmines and, increasingly, IEDs. That much I was reminded of during my recent visits to northern Iraq to cover the battle to retake Mosul from the jihadists of Islamic State (IS). In Mosul and elsewhere IS has developed and taken the use of IEDs to a new level. While IEDs are sometimes portrayed as a primitive or crude weapon crafted from locally available resources because of a lack of access to conventional weapons, what IS has done is to evolve them in such a way that they are much more sophisticated, directed and destructive, produced on an industrial scale. A child’s football or doll; teapots; television sets; fridges; chicken coops; even dead bodies – when it comes to IEDs and rigged booby-trap bombs, almost everything is potentially lethal in the wake of the IS occupation of cities and towns such as Mosul.

Just like landmines, they indiscriminately maim and kill. Child victims tend to suffer the most severe injuries as a result of the powerful explosive force. While some devices IS has used are sophisticated, others are less so, such as a hand-grenade with its pin removed and placed in a glass balanced on top of a door.

Then there are crush wires, small stands of wire that resemble a string of Christmas fairy lights but are thinner and coloured to blend in with the earth. Instead of lights, these have tiny taped circuits that, when stood on, trigger a blast that can occur just feet or hundreds of yard away. Crush wires are near impossible to see when strewn on the ground of any urban battlefield.

According to recent research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the types of close-contact injuries inflicted by IEDs are much more serious than those associated with land mines. IED victims were more likely than those similarly injured by landmines to have more than one amputation – 70 per cent against 10.5 per cent. The scale and nature of this increasing threat from IEDs mean that those with the task of disposing of them or neutralising them face fresh challenges. This all costs money. Unmas has estimated the cost for removing landmines and explosives from Mosul alone will be US $50 million (£37m); this on top of the same amount for the whole of Iraq.

Fresh expertise needs to be brought to bear, too, as does new technology in tackling this massive problem. Then there is the education side of the work that needs to be done, such as making refugees and displaced people or those returning to their former battlefield communities more aware of the threat.

More than once in Iraq I’ve watched as people, especially children, have thrown stones at unexploded ordnance in the hope of rendering them safe through detonation without realising the device’s destructive potential and that their lives are in grave danger.

Meeting the likes of Paul Heslop was a salutary reminder of the incredible work such people do day in, day out. Many work on their hands and knees clearing mines and IEDs in the most dangerous and difficult of conditions from Iraq to Cambodia. They need all the financial and political support that can be mustered to help them prevent yet more lives from being ruined or lost.

Twenty years on from the Ottawa Treaty, a new generation of explosive threats stalks millions of people. Those on the frontline of the battle to neutralise them would like nothing better than to see their skills no longer needed. As Paul Heslop recently summed it up: “The real legacy would be for me to wake up one day and realise I didn’t have a job. That would be the most amazing thing. To work myself out of a job would be incredible.”