Five years after hostilities ended in Iraq, communities are still struggling to live in one of the countries most heavily contaminated by Explosive Ordnance (EO) in the world.
Published on 13th October, Humanity & Inclusion’s report "No safe recovery: The impact of Explosive Ordnance contamination on affected populations in Iraq" paints a harrowing picture of the daily lives of Iraqis, some of whom are too nervous to let their children walk to school, or so desperate for income that they’ll risk working in places known to be polluted with explosives.
Researchers focused on Iraq’s heavily populated governorate of Ninewa, home to the cities of Mosul, Sinjar, and Tel Afar. The report lends critical evidence to generations of historical examples proving that war cannot end for civilians until the last bomb is cleared. It underscores the need for States to reach a consensus on a way to protect civilians when conflicts strike populated areas.
8.5 million Iraqis affected
Iraq is one of the countries most heavily contaminated by explosive ordnance on earth. Explosive remnants of war affect more than 3,200 km2 of land - twice the area of London. The pollution infuses the population with terror, as mines or explosive remnants claimed about 700 victims between 2018-2020. A staggering 8.5 million Iraqis live amid these deadly waste-products of war.
A health centre destroyed in Mosul © F. Vergnes/HI
“We’re often talking about bombs triggered by tripwires in hallways, aerial bombs that never exploded resting metres below ground and surrounded by rubble, and children’s toys packed with explosives.”
says Alma Al Osta, HI's Advocacy Protection of Civilians Manager.
Volunteers working with Humanity & Inclusion raise awareness among young people in their neighborhoods about the risks associated with landmines and explosive remnants of war.
© F. Vergnes/HI
The impact of explosive weapons in towns and cities
Bombing populated areas was a hallmark of the conflict that Iraqis endured from 2014-2017. This practice not only robbed tens of thousands of Iraqis of their lives, it also left their schools, fields, pathways, homes, water treatment plants, and shops littered with explosive ordnance.
“Bombs and cities should never meet. Not only does the moment of impact cause maximum destruction to the buildings, infrastructures, and people within the blast radius, the explosive pollution left behind robs a population of its right to any chance at restoring its economic and social heartbeat.”
says Alma Al Osta.
HI physiotherapists providing a rehabilitation session to people injured by explosive weapons.
© F. Vergnes/HI
The wider impact of explosive ordnance contamination
One in 12 internally displaced persons - Iraq counted 678,512 internally displaced in 2020 - state that the presence of explosive ordnance is a barrier to their return, the report notes. Barred from returning safely, households continue to be displaced and communities are unable to reconnect and build their resilience collectively.
In Ninewa, access to education has been severely affected as many schools were destroyed during the conflict and some schools, as well as roads to schools, remain contaminated.
As one woman explained in Sinjar, “In my village, there is no high school. It is difficult for students to travel to other villages, especially when we do not know whether that village is contaminated or not.”