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Children at risk from bombs under Gaza rubble

Handicap International today publishes a report “Bombs under the rubble”, evaluating the Gazan population’s awareness of the presence of explosive remnants of war (ERW). Following the Israeli offensive between 7th July and 26th August 2014, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) estimates that there are at least 7,000 unexploded devices and munitions, mainly mixed in with the rubble.

Almost half of the people interviewed as part of the Handicap International study reported feelings of fear on a daily basis due to the presence of these bombs. 45% of people surveyed had benefited from awareness-raising actions, but children, particularly young boys, were identified as a major high-risk group that should be a priority for risk education to prevent accidents.

The report Bombs under the rubble, published by Handicap International on 15th January 2015, found that 47% of people considered explosive remnants to be a constant cause for concern in their daily lives. In total, 45% of the people interviewed had received training on the risks, but the report also reveals significant shortcomings. Whilst 70% of respondents know how to report finding an explosive remnant of war, only 29% have actually done so.

Children, particularly young boys, were identified as a major high-risk group by the data analysis, by the respondents themselves, and by recent casualty data. Only half of the children surveyed claimed that they had received information about the dangers of ERW in the past, despite generally high levels of school attendance in Gaza. With 94% of schools running half-day sessions for two separate groups of students, many children are spending more time than usual out of school during this critical time of rubble removal and reconstruction, with ERW continuing to be uncovered.

"The reconstruction work in Gaza can only begin once the rubble has been removed," explains Guillaume Zerr, Handicap International Head of Mission in the Palestinian Territories. "This phase is very high risk, given the large amounts of unexploded ordnance in the rubble. The local population is highly exposed as they often undertake the removal work themselves."

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is responsible for the rubble removal but cannot oversee the removal of all the debris. This represents a lucrative business opportunity as the materials recovered can be sold on for reconstruction purposes.

Handicap International’s report emphasises the need to implement additional campaigns to pass on key safety messages on what people should do if they find a suspicious object, specifically during this clean-up phase when lots of people are moving rubble.

The recommendations made in the report include:

  • Prioritising risk education programmes for children
  • Increasing cooperation between risk education actors and coordinating messages and assessments.

In light of the report’s conclusions, as of January 2015 Handicap International is implementing a programme in Gaza to raise the awareness of explosive remnants of war amongst families in the worst-affected areas and small businesses contracted to carry out rubble removal.

• The Handicap International report, Bombs Under The Rubble, is available here.
• The term Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) covers the different types of unexploded devices (grenades, shells, rockets and cluster munitions) which remain in place after an armed conflict ends.

The study was carried out by Handicap International from 13th to 21st October 2014 on a panel of 549 people, using a questionnaire composed of 22 questions. Four discussion groups were formed. A series of interviews were also carried out with key actors such as the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. This study cross references quantitative and qualitative data using the KAP (Knowledge, Attitudes, Practices) method developed by the World Health Organization. The investigators used cluster and quota sampling to ensure the data collected was representative.

Handicap International in the Palestinian Territories
Handicap International has been working in the Palestinian territories since 1996, implementing projects on rehabilitation, support for civil society, and local inclusive development. Handicap International developed Disability and Vulnerability Focal Points to provide support to people with disabilities and other specific needs. These activities are implemented with local partners in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

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