Syria Weapons Contamination: “Beyond Our Worst Nightmares”

c_Philippe_Houillat_Handicap-International_Kobani.jpgHandicap International assessment of Kobani finds a city of unexploded weapons and booby traps

Handicap International mine action experts have assessed the beleaguered city of Kobani, Syria, in April, and discovered an alarming level of unexploded ordnance contamination. Four months of combat, including ground fighting and coalition air strikes, left an average of 10 munitions per square meter in the city center, and destroyed nearly 80% of buildings, according to a Handicap International brief released today.

“What we saw in Kobani was beyond our worst nightmares: a significant part of the city is vastly destroyed and unexploded weapons contamination of all kinds have reached a density and diversity that has hardly ever been witnessed before,” said Frédéric Maio, Handicap International’s Mine Action Program Development Manager. “The unexploded devices and booby traps pose a daily threat to the people who fled Kobani and are now trying to return home. This explosive pollution will make it impossible for people to reconstruct their lives, and blocks access to several areas. It also prevents humanitarian organizations from operating safely and providing the necessary support to this vulnerable population.”

Handicap International experts witnessed first-hand the consequences of the violent clashes that took place in the city center, as well as in Kobani’s southern and northern neighborhoods. The team discovered unexploded devices, both manufactured and homemade, in the rubble of collapsed and damaged buildings. In addition, a significant number of booby traps, including explosive devices left in corpses, are still scattered around the neighborhoods where the fiercest fighting took place.

More than 1,000 bomb craters—some more than 33 feet in diameter—can be found around the city. These scars were created during a wave of violence, including more than 700 airstrikes using 550-lb to one-ton aerial bombs, and the explosions of 40 booby-trapped cars in the city center.

Immediate action has to be taken to protect civilians from the deadly and disabling effects of these weapons, and to support the people who are injured by them. Handicap International has begun risk awareness activities to protect the civilians who may come into contact with explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices.

Clearing weapons and removing rubble are urgent priorities, as people returning home may be tempted to remove unexploded ordnance by themselves. The organization is committed to providing the communities living in and around Kobani with its expertise in the mapping, clearance, and disposal of conventional weapons and improvised explosive devices.

It is also time for the international community to acknowledge the horrifying impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas like Kobani, and to actively engage in an international political commitment to end the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

Handicap International report on use of explosive weapons in Syria
On May 12, Handicap International released a report called “The Use of Explosive Weapons in Syria: a Time Bomb in the Making.” The report warns of the high degree of weapons contamination in Syria—explosive pollution that puts the lives of 5.1 million of Syrians, including 2 million children, at high risk of death, injury, and disability. Based on an analysis of 77,645 incidents linked to weapons collected between December 2012 and March 2015, the study found that explosive weapons are the most commonly used weapons in the Syria conflict. Indeed, explosive weapons were present in 83.73% of reported incidents. Civilians are in grave danger, as 75% of these incidents are taking place in populated areas. In the Damascus governorate alone, 5,353 incidents were reported, representing an average of seven incidents per day.

To read the full Kobani fact sheet, please click here


Note: Explosive weapons include explosive ordnance such as mortars, rockets, artillery shells and aircraft bombs as well as improvised explosive devices.