Friday, August 18, 2006

Unexploded munitions pose deadly threat to returning displaced

Copyright (c) 2006 The Daily Star

Friday, August 18, 2006
Unexploded munitions pose deadly threat to returning displaced
By Iman Azzi Special to The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Lebanese civilians have been warned to be on the lookout for unexploded ordnance (UXO) across the country as a major campaign to clear the deadly refuse of war got under way this week. At least four people have been killed by UXOs since Monday, underscoring the danger posed by large aerial bombs, artillery shells, missiles and cluster submunitions for both displaced civilians returning to Southern Lebanon and the relief workers trying to distribute humanitarian aid.

"This war has left thousands of unexploded ordnance and cluster bombs," read Arabic-language leaflets that are being handed out by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Lebanon and along the border with Syria for refugees now returning from that country. "For your safety and the safety of your children you have to know that in all the places that have been bombarded there may be strange objects or cluster bombs of different shapes, colors and sizes."

Of the thousands of Israeli rounds fired into Lebanon, the United Nations has estimated that an average of 10 percent of such ordnance are likely to have failed to function as designed and remain in the ground or in the rubble of destroyed buildings as significant explosive hazards.

UNICEF warns that there could be 8,000 to 9,000 UXOs in South Lebanon.

"We are expecting to find thousands if not hundreds of thousands of UXOs. This is a massive humanitarian concern," Human Rights Watch (HRW) spokesman Marc Garlasco told The Daily Star from the battered Southern town of Khiam. "UXOs will affect the ability to farm in the South. Fields will be unavailable for months."

Garlasco said his team had already located hundreds of unexploded 155-millimeter artillery shells, although HRW is not officially recording numbers. The detonation of such a shell can produce a crater up to 3 meters deep and 4 meters in diameter.

Just one "will destroy you and everyone around you and send shrapnel over 200 meters," Garlasco warned.
While HRW is not equipped to destroy the UXOs they record the GPS coordinates and send the information to an appropriate organization such as the National De-Mining Agency or the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS).

Another hazardous UXOs is the M42, an American-made cluster munition about the size and shape of a D battery - and with a 14 percent "dud" rate.

According to Garlasco, the M42 was the number one killer of Iraqi civilians during the US-led invasion in 2003. It is smaller and harder to see than the 155mm shell, and "these won't kill, they'll just maim you," said Garlasco.

He also warned that Hizbullah had set up several booby traps across South Lebanon intended to trap and destroy Israeli tanks. However, these booby traps can also prove fatal for unsuspecting civilians.
UNMAS has found at least 200 cluster bombs in in the Southern town of Tibnin, including some on hospital grounds.

"We stopped counting them at 200," UNMAS said.

Alan Kelly, liaison officer for UNMAS New York, said the agency was in the process of bringing in personnel equipped to destroy UXOs: five explosive ordnance teams, five battle clearance teams and three survey teams.

"We are currently in a period of rapid response," Kelly told The Daily Star. "We are alleviating the problem of UXOs on the main roads to decrease the number of internally displaced people getting injured on their way home."

Hizbullah has been monitoring the clearing of Beirut's southern suburbs (the Dahiyeh) closely, watching for UXOs. As of Wednesday, Hizbullah officials had found four unexploded 1,000-kilogram aerial bombs in the suburbs and called the Lebanese Army to help destroy them.

Experts warn that there could be thousands of UXOs still in Dahiyeh.

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