Handicap International warns that excessive weapons contamination in Syria is putting the lives of 5.1 million Syrians—including 2 million children—at high risk. In a report released today, “The Use of Explosive Weapons in Syria: A Time Bomb in the Making,” Handicap International calls on all parties to the Syrian conflict to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, and to immediately end the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The international community must urgently respond to the danger that civilians are in as a result of living in such close proximity to those weapons.
Between December 2012 and March 2015, Handicap International analyzed 77,645 incidents—occurrences such as fighting and bombardments—and found that explosive weapons are the most commonly used weapons in the Syria conflict. In fact, more than four out of five reported incidents involved explosive weapons.
The lives of civilian populations are in grave danger, as 75% of these incidents took place in populated areas. The Damascus governorate alone experienced 5,353 reported incidents, an average of seven incidents each day since December 2012. In total, 5.1 million people—including 2 million children—are living in areas highly affected by the use of explosive weapons, creating an immediate and long-term threat to their lives.
Extensive use of explosive weapons by all parties to the conflict is having dreadful consequences for civilians. “Because of their blast or fragmentation effects, explosive weapons kill or generate complex injuries,” says Anne Garella, Regional Coordinator of Handicap International. “The wide use of explosive weapons combined with the lack of appropriate surgical care in Syria has a devastating impact on people’s lives. When injuries are not properly treated, it is likely that the patient will not fully recover and will develop long-term impairments. With more than one million war-wounded in Syria, this is an entire generation who will suffer the consequences of those weapons.”
Beyond the immediate threat posed by explosive weapons, the report highlights the deadly legacy that is left behind by explosive remnants of war (ERW). Not all explosives detonate on impact, in some cases leaving live rockets and cluster munitions in the paths of curious civilians.
When roads and streets have been targeted by bombing and shelling, the contamination prevents the population from escaping warfare, or reaching the nearest hospital. Contamination by ERW destroys the opportunity to earn money, as farmers cannot tend their land nor their livestock. In the longer term, explosive remnants prevent people from coming home. They pose a deadly or disabling obstacle to displaced populations returning home, and will stymie the country’s ability to rebuild.
“Syria will inherit the deadly legacy of explosive weapons for years,” Garella adds. “Immediate risk education projects should be a priority to avoid further accidents, and training should be provided at the community level to raise awareness of local, displaced, and returning populations. The international community should grasp the full extent of the problem and plan for future clearance and rubble removal projects of highly contaminated areas.”
The report highlights the need for urgent actions to protect civilians from the use of explosive weapons. Parties to the conflict should immediately comply with international humanitarian law and stop using explosive weapons in populated areas. Handicap International also calls on all States to use their leverage to ensure that parties to the conflict stop this use. States should actively engage in the discussions currently taking place towards an international, political commitment to stop the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Jeff Meer, Executive Director of Handicap International U.S., notes that more than 360,000 people have benefited from Handicap International’s actions since the organization launched its Syria crisis response in 2012. Staff provide physical rehabilitation, psychological support, and distribute emergency aid to meet the essential needs of people with injuries, people with disabilities, and the most vulnerable people caught up in the crisis. "The survivors of this conflict will bear physical and psychological scars for years to come," he says. "We must make every effort to curtail further suffering."
Handicap International also delivers awareness and safety messages to local populations to prevent accidents caused by explosive remnants of war. In Syria, more than 71,500 people have already benefited from these life-saving lessons about spotting, avoiding, and reporting the weapons they find.
Methodology: The report draws its analysis from a compilation of secondary data, including data sets from UN agencies and international non-governmental organizations, open source media, and social media reports. A consolidated database of 77,645 incidents, collected between December 2012 and March 2015, was created. Available data was then used to map the frequency and severity of incidents in order to evaluate the weapons contamination that is currently affecting and will continue to affect the civilian population in Syria.
Explosive weapons include explosive ordnance such as mortars, rockets, artillery shells and aircraft bombs as well as improvised explosive devices (IEDs).