Funding struggle slowing cluster bomb clearance in south

BEIRUT (IRIN) - Waning international interest and funding is harming efforts to rid southern Lebanon of its hundreds of thousands of remaining cluster bomblets, posing a continuing threat to farmers and children, according to mine clearance organizations.

Israel dropped a large number of cluster bombs on southern Lebanon during the July 2006. Each bomb can release hundreds of individual bomblets, and about a quarter failed to explode on impact, effectively becoming landmines that can kill or maim.

“For almost all the organizations, it’s a continuous struggle to generate enough interest and funding to keep the teams on the ground working, which obviously has an impact on the amount of cluster bombs [bomblets] they can clear,” said Tekimiti Gilbert, the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre’s (UNMACC) acting program manager.

This year started with 33 teams on the ground, down from 44 last year, he said. But six of those teams, hired by the UK-based non-governmental organization Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and Denmark’s DanChurchAid, have been dropped since then.

“We stand to lose a further six teams by the end of March if the situation doesn’t change; and if it still doesn’t change, we’ll continue to lose more throughout the course of the year,” Gilbert told IRIN, adding that the further six at risk were from the Swedish Rescue Services Agency and private company BACTEC International.

Cutting demining operations will slow clearance of the estimated 12 million square meters remaining of contaminated land, a quarter of the estimated original strike area.

During 2008, 44 teams cleared just over 10 million square meters, Gilbert said. All 12 million square meters have been defined as “high priority” — either farmland people rely on for their livelihoods or close to populated areas and a risk to safety.

Revised figures

In the aftermath of the 2006 war, the UN put the figure of unexploded duds at about one million. So far deminers in south Lebanon have cleared about 155,000 cluster bomblets, though the rate of new discovery is slowing. By January 2008, deminers had cleared 137,000 bomblets, meaning only around 18,000 bomblets were cleared in the past year.

Though the initial number of duds estimated by the UN now appears to have been too high, Gilbert said the only certainty was that there were “hundreds of thousands” of unexploded duds left in south Lebanon after the war and many thousands still left to clear.

“We don’t know exactly what is left for the simple reason the Israelis haven’t told us,” he said. Israeli has ignored repeated demands by the UN to hand over strike data. Not having the strike information forces teams to search non-contaminated land unnecessarily, Gilbert said, a painstaking and costly process.

International ban

Israel’s showering of south Lebanon was one of the worst uses of cluster bombs in history and spurred the formation of an international treaty banning the use, production and sale of cluster bombs. A total of 95 countries signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Oslo, Norway, last December.

The treaty, the most significant advance in the field of disarmament since the 1997 ban on antipersonnel mines, will enter into force after being ratified by 30 states; as of the end January four states have ratified it and another 91 have signed but not yet ratified it.

Key weapons-producing states the US, Russia, China and Israel refused to sign up, arguing for their right to use cluster bombs in self defense, though important European powers such as France, Germany and the UK are signatories. From the Arab nations, only Lebanon and Tunisia signed.

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