NEW YORK - Unexploded ordnance from recent armed conflict in Lebanon will pose a direct threat to communities and internally displaced persons, hamper humanitarian relief, impede the movement of peacekeeping forces, and hinder the already difficult task of reconstructing houses and essential infrastructure in the area, according to Max Gaylard, Director of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
The United Nations estimates that some 500,000 people have been displaced by the latest violence in Lebanon. Individuals traveling through areas where conflict has been intense are at potential risk of injury or death from unexploded ordnance. “UXO must be marked and cleared from essential infrastructure before people can return home, houses can be rebuilt, and humanitarian personnel and peacekeepers can do their jobs,” Gaylard says.
Since 2002, nearly 59,000 landmines and more than 4,600 items of unexploded ordnance have been cleared from southern Lebanon, enabling the resumption of farming in dozens of communities and the return of thousands of internally displaced persons. Mine action activities in southern Lebanon have been overseen by the Mine Action Coordination Centre of Southern Lebanon. The Centre was established pursuant to a Security Council resolution in 2001, is staffed jointly by United Nations and Lebanese Armed Forces personnel, and is supported by UNMAS. The Centre coordinates mine action in Lebanese territory south of the Litani River, which is the area where the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) operates.
Prior to the current fighting, the Centre was focusing its attention on the clearance of an estimated 2.1 million square meters of land known to still be contaminated by landmines, booby-traps, and unexploded ordnance, threatening the safety of nearly 250,000 people in 151 communities, mainly along the Blue Line. The current fighting has significantly increased the amount of contaminated area to be cleared, and the United Nations is making plans to tackle this problem and to provide safety briefings for newly arriving humanitarian personnel once hostilities cease.
The UN Mine Action Service’s director has also expressed concern about several news reports alleging the use of cluster bombs by the parties to the conflict. “If cluster munitions are in fact being used, we appeal to the parties to respect existing international humanitarian law and take the required steps to prevent civilian casualties.”