Syria’s time bomb: 2 million children at risk from explosive weapons
A new report, published today by charity Handicap International, reveals the high degree of weapons contamination in Syria and warns that the lives of 5.1 million Syrians - including more than 2 million children - are at risk. Handicap International is calling on all the parties to the Syrian conflict to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and immediately end the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The international community must also urgently respond to address the harmful effects of these weapons on civilians.
An explosive remnant of war (ERW)found on the street in Kobani, Syria. | © Philippe Houillat / Handicap International
Based on an analysis of 77,645 incidents in the Syrian conflict collected between December 2012 and March 2015, the report shows that explosive weapons  are the most commonly used weapons in the Syria conflict. More than four out of five reported incidents were related to explosive weapons. 75% of these incidents took place in populated areas, putting civilian lives in grave danger. In Damascus governorate alone, 5,353 incidents were reported, representing an average of 7 incidents per day.
All parties to the conflict are using explosive weapons extensively, with dreadful consequences for civilians. In total, 5.1 million people - including 2 million children - are living in areas highly affected by the use of explosive weapons, posing an immediate and long term threat to their lives.
“Because of their blast or fragmentation effects, explosive weapons kill or cause complex injuries. The widespread use of explosive weapons, combined with the lack of appropriate surgical care in Syria, has a devastating impact on people’s lives. When injuries are not properly treated, it is likely that the patient will not fully recover and will develop long term impairments. With more than one million war-wounded in Syria, this is an entire generation who will suffer the consequences of these weapons.” says Anne Garella, Handicap International’s Regional Coordinator.
Beyond the immediate threat posed by explosive weapons, the report highlights the deadly legacy left behind by explosive remnants of war (ERW). When roads and streets have been targeted by bombing and shelling, the contamination prevents the population from escaping the fighting or from reaching the nearest hospital. ERW contamination also destroys livelihoods as farmers cannot take care of their land or animals. In the longer term, ERW are an obstacle to the return of displaced populations and to the overall reconstruction of the country.
“Syria will inherit the deadly legacy of explosive weapons for years,” says Anne Garella. “Immediate risk education projects should be a priority to avoid further accidents, and training should be provided at community level to raise awareness of local, displaced and returning populations. The international community should grasp the full extent of the problem and plan for future clearance and rubble removal projects in highly contaminated areas.”
This new report highlights the need for urgent actions to protect civilians from the use of explosive weapons. Parties to the conflict should immediately comply with International Humanitarian Law and stop using explosive weapons in populated areas. Handicap International also calls on all States to condemn these acts, use their leverage to ensure that parties to the conflict stop this use, and actively engage in the discussions currently taking place towards an international political commitment to stop the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Since 2012, Handicap International has provided aid to more than 360,000 people affected by the Syrian crisis. The organisation provides physical rehabilitation, psychological support and emergency distributions to respond to needs of injured, disabled and vulnerable people. In addition, Handicap International delivers risk awareness and safety messages to local populations to prevent accidents caused by explosive remnants of war.
1) Explosive weapons include explosive ordnance such as mortars, rockets, artillery shells and aircraft bombs as well as improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
2)The report "The use of explosive weapons in Syria: A time bomb in the making" can be downloaded at: http://goo.gl/wJnAAr
3) The report draws its analysis from a compilation of secondary data, including datasets from UN agencies and International non-governmental organisations, open source media and social media reports. A consolidated database of 77,645 incidents, collected between December 2012 and March 2015 was created. Available data was then used to map the frequency and severity of incidents in order to evaluate the weapons contamination that is currently affecting and will continue to affect the civilian population in Syria.