New report sheds light on need to rid Syria of dangerous unexploded weapons

By Hampton Stall, Senior Program Associate, The Carter Center

After Mozambique’s civil war ended in 1992, mine clearance experts took 23 years to clear the 86,000 unexploded weapons left behind. A recently released Carter Center report suggests there may be more than three times that amount of unexploded ordnance in Syria, where clearance efforts have yet to begin.

The presence of unexploded ordnance is a major obstacle to Syria’s recovery and development, affecting the ability to farm, use roads, repair housing or access schools, hospitals and other infrastructure. essential. Explosive remnants of war have a resounding impact on civilian life, economic activity and environmental health.

The need to withdraw them is one of the few things on which the Syrian belligerents and their international backers agree, and the issue deserves the attention of the international community as a whole.

The Carter Center report is based on a careful analysis of data collected by The Carter Center and obtained from the Armed Conflict Location Event Data Project. Researchers looked at conflict events across Syria dating back to 2012 and extrapolated the likely amount of unexploded ordnance in different areas based on reports of weapon counts of each of the different types of weapons used during attacks. a particular skirmish.

The result is an analysis that can be used to inform recovery efforts and negotiations. It illustrates why the international community should prioritize this issue and how it can address the problem.

The study recorded at least 972,051 explosive ordnance uses from 99,194 conflict events between December 2012 and May 2021. About 62% (599,954) of the total explosive ordnance used in Syria was land-launched and 37% (363,807) was aerial munitions. ammunition thrown.

Estimates suggest that during a conflict, between 10% and 30% of weapons fail to explode. Applying that percentage to data reviewed by the Center means that between 100,000 and 300,000 explosive ordnance were undetonated in Syria between December 2012 and May 2021. (And the number is likely much higher.)

  • Explosive ordnance contamination in Syria is likely to affect several generations of Syrians, and its impacts are multiple, including:
  • Loss of life or limb from encounters with live ammunition years after the end of the conflict, particularly among children.
  • Disruptions to economic development, particularly related to reconstruction in urban areas and agriculture in rural areas.
  • Environmental degradation as ordnance breaks down and chemicals and rust leach into soil and groundwater.

These weapons must be cleared to protect civilians, enable humanitarian assistance and ultimately encourage economic recovery. Demining efforts not only benefit the economy; they can also serve as confidence-building measures between warring factions and help build peace.

To begin to address this problem, The Carter Center recommends that:

  • Nations grant waivers of sanctions to humanitarian demining organizations.
  • The Syrian government is facilitating a faster and less arbitrary humanitarian registration process to encourage an earlier start to clearance.
  • The international community is prioritizing demining efforts alongside other humanitarian efforts, including in the recovery planning of specific towns for which data can be provided.
  • Syrian and international actors make the problem of unexploded ordnance a common theme in which actors could be engaged to advance on solutions related to the resolution of the Syrian crisis.
  • Demining analysts and organizations use The Carter Center’s methodology to estimate UXO contamination down to the community level to better focus clearance efforts. The underlying UXO data will be used by humanitarian organizations to better coordinate clearance action and the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Author’s note: The full report is available here, and the dataset is more detailed than presented in the report. The Carter Center is available and willing to share more detailed analysis on this issue with potential partners.

About Jimmie P. Ricks

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