Explosive Ordnance Contamination
Explosive ordnance has been widely reported in Syria. Approximately one explosive incidents every 10 minutes was recorded in the past five years (2015-2020). Landmines, explosive remnants of war (ERW) and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are particularly unpredictable and difficult to detect, continue to put the lives of millions of people at risk. All population groups are vulnerable to the threat of explosive ordnance, but certain groups are at higher risk due to age, gender, social roles and responsibilities in addition to their activity patterns – children who pick up dangerous items, agricultural workers who dig up the land, population groups on the move, such as internally displaced persons (IDPs), who may enter areas without knowledge of local threats. Men and boys are considered to be the most exposed to the direct, immediate threat of explosive incidents, while women and girls are more affected by their indirect impact, such as being deprived of freedom of movement and the exacerbation of underlying vulnerabilities.
In places like Aleppo, Dara’a, Rural Damascus, Idlib, Raqqa, and Deir ez-Zor Governorates, the presence of explosive ordnance causes injuries and death, limits safe access to services and impedes the delivery of humanitarian aid. Residential areas and key infrastructure, such as roads, schools, health centres, agricultural land, and settlements remain unsafe or unserviceable because of contamination, further compounding the social and economic impact of the crisis and possibilities for recovery. The already precarious social and economic crisis, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic may force more people to adopt unsafe behaviours and increase the likelihood of exposure to the explosive threat. Farming potentially contaminated land, removing rubble to generate income, and collecting metal for trade to maintain a family are all high risk activities where explosive remnants of war are present. Ever increasing casualties out of which a large number of survivors sustain permanent impairments, further contribute to heightening the demand on overwhelmed health services.
Shifting frontlines have added a further layer of explosive ordnance contamination in communities across Syria. According to the advance 2021 Humanitarian Needs Overview, 10.3 million people are at risk from explosive contamination and approximately one third of communities are estimated to be potentially contaminated. There is grave concern that returnees are exposed to high risks.
Mine Action Response
Recent and existing contamination, increased displacement and scarcity of services, in a context of higher risk and lower capacity of actors to safely respond, are exacerbating the severity of needs and make it necessary to expand the scale and scope of humanitarian mine action to allow for comprehensive geographic coverage, and efficient sharing of expertise and resources.
UNMAS and humanitarian mine action sector partners continue focusing on the protection of civilians through the delivery of age and gender sensitive explosive ordnance risk education, and on bolstering specialized services assisting survivors of explosive ordnance and their families, and persons with disability more broadly. The expansion of explosive ordnance survey and clearance operations, currently limited, continues to be a critical priority.
In 2020, nearly 2 million beneficiaries were reached with risk education sessions by UNMAS, humanitarian partners and public service providers. UNMAS and partners also trained more than 1,100 humanitarian workers on explosive ordnance risk awareness in support of safe humanitarian access. However, this was nearly 1 million fewer than in 2019, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, temporary suspension of in-person activities, insecurity and decreased funding. For instance, people in need in more than half of communities in Syria did not attend risk education sessions between April and August 2020 (Source: Multi Sector Needs Assessment, August 2020).
The sector continues to integrate risk education and awareness materials in activities undertaken by other sectors, such as Education, Shelter and Non-Food Items, and Food Security and Livelihoods, to reach a larger number of people at-risk and develop specific protection messages to better inform IDPs about the risks they may face. From Damascus, humanitarian partners continue to work in partnership with different ministries of the Government of Syria to deliver risk education.
Survey and where possible marking of hazardous areas have been carried out in 250 communities across 27 sub-districts in Syria. UNMAS first explosive ordnance assessment intervention in Rural Damascus was launched in August. The information collected better informs risk education messaging and helps prioritize areas for future survey, marking and removal of explosive contamination.
Efforts to increase and improve assistance to persons with disabilities, including victims of explosive ordnance and their families, have increased. In 2020, UNMAS and humanitarian mine action partners provided Victim Assistance (VA) services to more than 13,000 people in need. Yet resources to provide assistance to survivors of explosive ordnance remain limited and insufficient to meet needs across Syria.
Humanitarian access continues to be a major challenge for the mine action response:
Whilst humanitarian mine action access has improved, limited access has impacted operational reach, the provision of adequate mentoring for humanitarian mine action teams, and hampered the quality assurance mechanisms that assure the quality of humanitarian mine action tasks.
Data collection has also been difficult in many areas due to access limitations; limiting the sector’s ability to map contamination to determine the full scale and scope of the threat.
Access for specialized in-person training and equipment are key to expand survey, marking and clearance operations. As access increases, HMA funding needs will increase.
While humanitarian mine action needs remain vast, capacity on the ground has been significantly impacted by COVID-19 preventative measures such as movement restriction and limitations of face-to-face gatherings.
What Do We Need?
Increased access for humanitarian mine action activities and organizations, so that all aspects of humanitarian mine action can be addressed without restrictions and in accordance with humanitarian principles and protection concerns.
Prioritization of the humanitarian mine action response driven by the priority needs of impacted communities.
Comprehensive survey and marking of contaminated and suspected hazardous areas, for both urban and rural areas as well as residential and critical infrastructure.
The removal of explosive ordnance implemented in accordance with international standards to provide immediate protection, enable humanitarian activity, and access to existing services.
Adequate and sustained funding to ensure risk education, victim assistance, survey and clearance are implemented, as they are critical to reducing the risk and impact of the explosive ordnance contamination on the population.
Advocacy for access to allow for comprehensive geographic coverage, more rapid scale-up into new areas, and efficient sharing of expertise and resources, to ensure continuity of the delivery of key lifesaving humanitarian mine action services.
Funding Requirements 2021
In line with the increasing needs in Syria and the buildup of the explosive ordnance threat after a decade of hostilities, funding requirements for the sector remain high.
In 2020, USD 53 million were requested by the humanitarian mine action sector to respond to mine action needs across Syria. By the end of 2020, only 17% were funded.
The Syria Response Programme currently seeks USD 30 million for 2021 to support coordination and to scale up humanitarian mine action interventions, including much-needed survey and clearance activities across Syria, in order to reach people and communities most in need. UNMAS planned operations in 2021 face an immediate shortfall of USD 9 million, including the cost of the pilot clearance project in Rural Damascus and the cost of sustaining the UNMAS presence in Syria.
Data as of March 2021