Funding cuts threaten cluster bomb demining

Deminers from MAG scour farmland in south Lebanon for Israeli-dropped cluster bombs. (Hugh Macleod/IRIN)

BEIRUT (IRIN) - Deminers in south Lebanon clearing hundreds of thousands of unexploded Israeli-dropped cluster bomb submunitions will lose two-thirds of their teams this year unless a drastic funding shortfall is addressed.

The shortfall could mean that the mostly agricultural land will not be cleared of deadly ordnance for eight years or more.

In the most comprehensive assessment of the demining effort since Israel dropped an estimated four million cluster bomblets on south Lebanon, mostly during the last few days of its month-long 2006 war, key international demining agencies have appealed to donors for several million dollars in order to complete a job that remains only half done.

“Lebanon might be sliding off the front page of the news but this is a country where we can really finish clearing,” said Christina Bennike, country program manager for the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), the largest international demining organization working in Lebanon.

“It is a pity to see organizations losing funding and teams … We all have the same goal: to make Lebanon a country where people can live and work and raise their children in a safe environment,” Bennike told IRIN.

MAG currently has 14 demining teams working around Nabatiyeh, capital of the governorate with the same name in south Lebanon, but that number will fall to just four at the end of July unless the organization secures around $1 million for the second half of the year, Bennike said.

Hopes for EU funding

MAG aims to maintain 10 active demining teams in south Lebanon over the next five years and will be bidding for tenders with the European Commission (EC) which demining groups say is expected to make some $6.5m available for demining in Lebanon next year.

Having started the year with 26 demining teams, plus five from UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, the number of teams will fall to just nine plus UNIFIL by the end of the year, according to figures from the Lebanon Mine Action Centre (LMAC), which has recently been absorbed into the Lebanese Army’s demining division.

BACTEC, a commercial demining company working in south Lebanon since 2001, ceased its operations in late March due to lack of funding. The Swedish Rescue Services Agency (SRSA), which provides the only armored demining vehicle in the country, is also running short of funds for next year, while DanChurchAid (DCA) has dropped from five to two demining teams due funding hurdles.

“Once you go into a country you should stay there until the job is done, and the donor community should also stay,” said DCA’s Claus Nielsen. “Running away half way through, which is what is happening, has an impact on local communities, and only makes the job more expensive in the long run.”

Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) will also be removing its demining team unless it can plug a gap of nearly $250,000.

A long way to go

According to military officials with LMAC, as of May this year 195,000 cluster bomblets have been destroyed since the end of hostilities in August 2006, with 1,073 confirmed strike sites. Just less than 20 million square meters of land infested with unexploded cluster bomblets has been cleared, according to LMAC, with 16 million square meters still contaminated, of which 12 million are due for clearing.

MAG’s Bennike said that with 20 demining teams working in Lebanon clearing 800 square meters per working day, clearing the remaining 12 million square metres of affected land will take over eight years to finish.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2006 war the UN put the figure of unexploded Israeli cluster bomblets at around one million. The consensus today among deminers in Lebanon is that the figure is likely to be around half that, meaning there are still several hundred thousand bomblets to clear.

Israeli maps

The Lebanese army is currently studying data on cluster bomb strikes supplied by Israel to UNIFIL late on 12 May. Deminers are hoping the data will include exact coordinates of each strike site and the date and type of each weapon fired.

Coming nearly three years after the war ended, despite repeated requests by the UN, Lebanon and other governments, the move was met with little cheer by the Lebanese authorities.

“If the Israelis had sent those maps in 2006 when we requested them we could have saved a lot of causalities. After three years what are these maps for?” Gen Mohammed Fehmi, director of LMAC, told IRIN.

Since the end of hostilities in 2006, 40 Lebanese have been killed by unexploded ordnance and a further 300 injured, many left permanently disabled.

“We have enough personnel, expertise and equipment, but we need money to complete the task,” Fehmi said.

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