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Gaza: the presence of explosive remnants of war must not hinder the reconstruction process

Explosive weapons

The 50-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in July and August 2014 caused widespread destruction in the Gaza Strip. According to the United Nations, 18,000 homes were destroyed. The remaining rubble is estimated to contain between 7,000 and 10,000 unexploded devices, exposing those involved in the clean-up operation to serious harm. As of January 2015, Handicap International will be implementing a campaign to raise small businesses' and families' awareness of explosive remnants of war.

A car in front of building that have been destroyed and rubble that may contain explosive weapons. Gaza.

A car in front of building that have been destroyed and rubble that may contain explosive weapons. Gaza. | © N Boedicker / Handicap International

Under the Gaza reconstruction plan the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) contracts private firms to removal the rubble which is the pre-requisite for carrying out any reconstruction work. The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) implements mine risk education programmes with these contractors.

However, the United Nations is unable to fund all the clean-up work required. "Much of the work will be done by the families themselves, or they will get a local business to do it for them, as they are keen to return to their homes as quickly as possible," explains Guillaume Zerr, Handicap International Head of Mission in the Palestinian territories. "Most of it is therefore done with no oversight."

Handicap International is therefore working with small local businesses and all Gazans participating in a private, unsupervised manner in the clean-up operation. It has put into place a simple, pragmatic, risk awareness programme which aims to inform people about what do to and the right attitudes to adopt. "We want to reach at least 1,000 tradesmen and small business beneficiaries during the first three months of the intervention," states Guillaume. The programme is planned to continue throughout 2015.

Visiting the worst-affected neighbourhoods, reaching out to the people involved in the clean-up operation, going door-to-door, handing out leaflets, passing on the messages... "It is important to speak to people in situ, where the work is taking place," Frédéric Maio from Handicap International's Mines Division tells us. "We will also hold more conventional awareness-raising sessions in the form of workshops or groups."

The "mine risk education" aspects are completed with a section on "identifying explosive devices." "The recommendation for anyone who thinks they have found an explosive device is to inform our team immediately. A specialist will then arrive to identify the object. If it is an unexploded remnant, Handicap International's team will mark the zone and contact UNMAS," says Guillaume. "Our main priority is to limit the number of accidents by repeating the same message: whenever you find a suspicious object, call an expert!"

"This type of intervention will help ensure the reconstruction process goes as smoothly as possible," adds Frédéric. "On the one hand, families need to return home and on the other the small firms need to work. It is important to make sure that as far as possible the explosive remnants of war do not hinder the reconstruction process. Our objective is to reduce the risks and the number of accidents."

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