Although the “hot” wars have ended, Lebanon is still fighting a different kind of war: the war against landmine and cluster-munition contamination. These weapons are known as Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) and are a legacy of 32 years of civil conflict, invasions, and occupations. Most landmines were laid haphazardly and unmapped by various combatants to demarcate territory. The Hezbollah-Israel hostilities in July-August 2006 resulted in heavy cluster-munition contamination, when Israel discharged approximately 4 million cluster bomblets on South Lebanon in the last 72 hours of the war. Up to a million of these bomblets did not explode and remained live. Although landmine contamination affects other regions of Lebanon, including dating back to the French Mandate, most ERW contamination is found in the south.
The Lebanese Mine Ban Treaty Standing Committee on Clearance reported that 30% of Lebanon has some level of landmine and cluster munition contamination. Lebanon’s mine action strategy is to clear the country of all cluster munitions, landmines, and unexploded ordnance by 2021, pending adequate funding. It is the Lebanon Mine Action Center, a part of the Lebanese Armed Forces, that undertakes most clearance.
Although mine risk education has dramatically reduced casualties, 111 Lebanese communities – or about 370,000 people - are still at risk for loss of life or limb. The contamination has a disproportionate effect in the agriculture sector. About 54,000 Syrian refugees reside in communities where there is contamination.
The American Task Force for Lebanon is trying to keep the issue of ERW contamination in Lebanon alive in the consciousness of the international community. In 2008-2009, we advocated for the Department of State to fund $2.3 million to the United Nations Mine Action Service for munitions clearance projects in Lebanon. In 2009-2010, we raised $104,000 for cluster-munitions clearance, triggering a $200,000 Department of State challenge match, for a project executed by Mines Advisory Group. In 2012, we raised $122,706, with a Department of State challenge match, to assist survivors of ERW. In 2013, we raised $56,775 (totaling $113,550 with a Department of State match) to provide prostheses and vocational training for victims of ERW in Lebanon. In 2014, we raised $23,912, with a Department of State challenge match, to purchase, train, transport, and integrate one Mine Detection Dog for landmine clearance in Lebanon. And earlier this year, the ATFL and Mines Advisory Group (MAG) America hosted a discussion with MAG Lebanon Country Director Bekim Shala on ERW in Lebanon.
One of our proudest accomplishments was working with the US Department of State to urge Israel to turn over cluster munitions strike data from the 2006 war to the UN. Israel finally did this on May 12, 2009 and this led to the identification of 282 previously unknown potential sites for cluster munitions contamination.
We are proud of this humanitarian effort but more needs to be done. It will take millions of dollars more to clear Lebanon of the remaining cluster munitions and landmines. The influx of over 1.2 million Syrian refugees to Lebanon has shifted humanitarian assistance to that crisis and I am not optimistic the international community will provide substantial resources anytime soon to clear the country of the remaining unexploded ordnance.