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Kobani: Unexploded weapons contamination "beyond our worst nightmares"

Explosive weapons

Handicap International mine action experts have assessed the beleaguered city of Kobani, Syria in April, and discovered an alarming level of unexploded ordnance contamination. Four months of combat, including ground fighting and coalition air strikes, left an average of 10 munitions per square metre in the city centre and destroyed nearly 80% of buildings, according to the Handicap International brief released today.

A bomb crater in Kobani, Syria.

A bomb crater in Kobani, Syria. | © P.Houillat / Handicap International

“What we saw in Kobani was beyond our worst nightmares: a significant part of the city is vastly destroyed and unexploded weapons contamination of all kinds have reached a density and diversity that has hardly ever been witnessed before,” said Fred Maio, Handicap International’s Mine Action Program Development Manager.

“The unexploded devices and booby traps pose a daily threat to the people who fled Kobani and are now trying to return home. This explosive pollution will make it impossible for people to reconstruct their lives, and blocks access to several areas. It also prevents humanitarian organizations from operating safely and providing the necessary support to this vulnerable population.”

Handicap International experts witnessed first-hand the consequences of the violent clashes that took place in the city centre, as well as in Kobani’s southern and northern neighbourhoods. The team discovered unexploded devices, both manufactured and homemade, in the rubble of collapsed and damaged buildings. In addition, a significant number of booby traps, including explosive devices left in corpses, are still scattered around the neighbourhoods where the fiercest fighting took place.

More than 1,000 bomb craters - some more than 10 metres in diameter - can be found around the city. These scars were created during a frenzy of violence, including more than 700 airstrikes using 550lbs to one-tonne aerial bombs, and the explosions of 40 booby-trapped cars in the city centre.

Immediate action must be taken to protect civilians from the deadly and disabling effects of these weapons, and to support the people who are injured by them. Handicap International has begun risk awareness activities to protect the civilians who may come into contact with explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices.

Clearing weapons and removing rubble are urgent priorities, as people returning home may be tempted to remove unexploded ordnance by themselves. Handicap International is committed to providing the communities living in and around Kobani with its expertise in the mapping, clearance, and disposal of conventional weapons and improvised explosive devices.

It is also time for the international community to acknowledge the horrifying impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas like Kobani, and to actively engage in an international political commitment to end the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

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