Handicap International is currently working in three districts of North Lebanon, Becharre, Batroun and Koura. The activities are taking place primarily on agricultural land located in inhabited mountainous areas. In total 20,000 inhabitants will directly benefit from the demining operations.
Three teams, each composed of a dozen deminers, are already hard at work and Handicap International plans to set up a fourth demining team in 2015, which should ensure the three districts are fully cleared of mines by 2016.
Demining can be a painstaking process
The speed with which the operations are completed depends on how densely mined the land is. "We recently worked on a field of almost 4000 m2 in which we located and destroyed 73 antipersonnel landmines! The work was painstaking and we made very slow progress," explains Chris Chenavier, Head of the Demining Program.
In 2014, Handicap International teams cleared on average 25m2 per day. "The uneven topography of the terrain means we cannot use machines or dogs," adds Mohamed Kaakour, Handicap International’s Head of Operations in Lebanon. "Everything has to be done manually."
Most of the terrain where Handicap International works is former agricultural land, mainly olive groves and orchards, which cannot be worked due to the presence of unexploded ordnance. Once this land has been cleared it can be reused for its original purpose and the owners can once again benefit from an income they have been deprived of for years. The mine clearance work also makes it possible to build, carry out roadworks and develop tourism.
Last July, the team finished clearing an olive grove of 60 olive trees which had not been tended to since 2004 after an antipersonnel landmine exploded and killed a shepherd. After the annual harvest in November, the landowner made around 5,000 Euros from the sale of his olives. This example clearly illustrates the impact Handicap International’s work can have on the local community.
45% of landmine accidents result in permanent disabilities
Between 2011 and the end of September 2014, Handicap International cleared a total of 26.5 hectares in North Lebanon. According to data recently received from the Lebanon Mine Action Center (LMAC), there are still 3,000 hectares of land in Lebanon mined with antipersonnel landmines (a quarter of this land is located on the Israeli border) and 1,700 hectares contaminated with cluster munitions. To date, approximately 1,260 hectares of land has been released to the local population thanks to the combined efforts of all the demining actors.
A study conducted in 2013 by the University of Balamand in Tripoli shows that the majority of the victims of landmines and explosive remnants of war are adult males (around 60%). In 45% of cases, landmine accidents result in a permanent disability.
Demining in Lebanon for nearly 10 years
In 2006, Handicap International launched a demining mission in Lebanon, in the wake of Israel’s incursion into the south of the country. The aim of that project was to clear land contaminated with cluster munitions. Between 2008 and 2010, the organization then helped clear the Nahr El Bared Palestinian camp. Subsequently we deployed teams in the province of North Lebanon to clear land contaminated by antipersonnel landmines laid during the civil war (1975-2000).