After 11 years of war and intense use of explosive weapons in Syria, up to 300,000 explosive ordnance have failed to detonate, according to a new report by Humanity & Inclusion, in collaboration with the Syria Mine Action Area of Responsibility. “Explosive ordnance in Syria: impact and required action,” paints a harrowing picture of Syria’s extreme levels of contamination, with one in two people (more than 10 million people) at risk.
The report highlights the extent and variety of explosive ordnance contamination, and the consequences. In 2020, there were an average of 76 recorded explosive ordnance accidents per day, equivalent to one every 20 minutes.
The contamination’s devastating impacts on people, vital infrastructure and the provision of humanitarian assistance is made clear, as well as the crucial work performed by humanitarian mine action actors, and the steps required to address the issue. The report was compiled with support from more than 60 organizations specialized in Humanitarian Mine Action in Syria, known as The Syria Mine Action Area of Responsibility.
“Explosive ordnance threats are everywhere,” says Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion. “Yet three-quarters of the people who survived accidents say they had no idea that the area was dangerous before the blast. Teaching communities how to spot, avoid, mark, and report hazards is an urgent need if we wish to prevent future accidents.”
Indeed, at the time of recorded accidents, the victims were most often traveling or moving from one place to another, performing agricultural and household work, or playing with the explosive ordnance.
Highest casualty record
Syria records the largest number of explosive ordnance casualties in the world, the majority of recorded accidents are in northwest Syria.
United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) coordinated casualty reports and recorded 12,345 explosive ordnance casualties in Syria between 2013 and 2020, resulting in 4,389 deaths and 7,956 injuries.
In 2020, the Landmine Monitor recorded the highest number of annual casualties (2,729) for Syria since its reporting began in 1999. The actual number of casualties is certainly much higher given limitations in data collection. For example, Action on Armed Violence recorded 77,535 explosive ordnance casualties in Syria between 2011 and 2020.
Massive and diverse contamination
In 2022, extensive bombing and shelling continues in northwest and northeast Syria, in addition to widespread violence across the country through missile and drone strikes, use of vehicle-based improvised explosive devices, and small firearms and light weapons.
Contamination is incredibly diverse and massive as the whole range of explosive weapons has been used in Syria: Improvised explosive devices, landmines, including improvised mines, aerial bombs, mortars, etc. have been widely used during the 11-year conflict.
All of Syria is contaminated. Operations to identify the extent of the contamination and safely clear the land for effective use will take decades.
“It’s clear that you cannot rebuild Syria without weapons clearance,” Meer adds. “Yet the contamination is so vast and so diverse that clearance experts have had to adapt and invent new ways to work. We are pretty sure than in 2050, in the middle of this century, clearance operations will be ongoing to free the country from the threat of mines and other explosive remnants of war.”
The contamination covers agricultural lands, disrupting traditional local economy and increasing the danger on agricultural workers who return to unsafe fields to make a living that is vital for them and their families. Further, urban areas are highly contaminated, which both puts people in danger and prevents humanitarians implementing much needed activities such as the rebuilding of homes, schools and, health centers.
According to data for 2021 collected by the United Nations and NGOs, humanitarian mine action actors have cleared nearly 2.4 million square meters of land in which they have found or destroyed more than 4,820 explosives or explosive remnants. At the same time, more than 1.3 million people have received mine risk education, and more than 8,300 victims have received specific assistance.
“Explosive ordnance in Syria: impact and required action” relies on available data from a range of sources, including, casualty reports, community impact surveys, UN-coordinated multi-sectoral needs assessments, NGO surveys, and insight from humanitarian field staff and affected persons. This includes engagement with over 20 international humanitarian international organizations in Syria, nine of which focus on humanitarian mine action, between August 2021 and March 2022.
About Humanity & Inclusion
Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Humanity & Inclusion is an international NGO working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. We work tirelessly alongside people with disabilities and those living in situations of extreme vulnerability to help meet their basic needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights. For the past 40 years, Humanity & Inclusion has been working to support survivors of explosive weapons, and in the last 30 years campaigning against anti-personnel mines and cluster bombs, with projects ranging from bomb clearance, to risk education, teaching civilians about the dangers of these weapons and how to stay safe when living in their midst. This advocacy led to the signing of the Ottawa Mine Ban Convention (1997) and the Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions (2008). Humanity & Inclusion is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and co-founder of the Cluster Munition Coalition.
Photo: Explosive ordnance in a school in an area in Syria emerging from active conflict
© International humanitarian actor operating in Syria