The extensive use of explosive weapons during nearly six years of conflict poses a grave threat to Syrians, humanitarian response operations, and livelihood activities. It is estimated that 5.1 million people are living in highly contaminated areas, with more than 2 million children directly exposed to the risk of explosive weapons. The most recent UN protection assessment highlighted explosive hazards as the number two concern for the population, with significant needs identified in 39 percent of sub-districts. Contamination from the conflict includes landmines, explosive remnants of war (ERW), improvised explosive devices (IEDs), artisanal mines, some of which are connected to booby traps, coalition UXO, and cluster munitions.
While urban areas are the targets of most attacks, landmine-related incidents are recorded more frequently in the countryside and the high presence of IEDs remains a significant threat. Landmines are planted along roads, or are concealed in fields and pasturelands, near wells and riverbanks, affecting agriculture-based livelihoods. Key infrastructure such as housing, schools, health centres, and water/sanitation systems have been repeatedly targeted. The contamination is endangering the lives and livelihoods of generations, restricts freedom of movement, is a barrier to meeting basic needs, and prevents the safe deployment of aid.
Following the passage of Security Council Resolution 2165, the UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator requested UNMAS to deploy and provide assistance as mine action was viewed as a humanitarian priority for the Syrian crisis. UNMAS deployed a team to southern Turkey in August 2015 and mine action is now fully integrated in the humanitarian response. UNMAS provides overall coordination for the mine action sector and partners, technical support and oversight, and has supported direct implementation of clearance and risk education activities.
UNMAS is coordinating the work of three international organisations conducting clearance and at least four additional organisations are expected to start activities in 2016. In Kobane, this work resulted in the destruction of 14 tonnes of ERW. Moreover, 17 houses, three schools, one hospital, four playgrounds and 21 shops were searched, cleared and returned to the community.
The removal of explosive hazards is contributing to the protection of civilians, improves access to basic services, the resumption of livelihood activities, and reduces the risk of the explosives being harvested and used for IEDs.
UNMAS and several organisations are conducting risk education projects, spread geographically across Syria and in neighbouring countries targeting the refugee population. In the latter half of 2015, partners reached 110,000 people inside Syria and provided safety briefings to 166 UN and NGO staff.
Since deploying to southern Turkey, UNMAS established a coordination mechanism for victim assistance through the Mine Action Sub Cluster. UNMAS aims to expand the number of organisations participating in the sub cluster and implementing activities that respond to the needs of survivors and their families.
Ongoing conflict in many governorates prevents access by humanitarian mine action organisations. The extent and impact of contamination has resulted in Syrians with no formal training conducting ad hoc clearance without the technical ability to do so. The capacity of some local teams conducting clearance has been reduced by half as a result of casualties occurring during operations.
While a comprehensive clearance programme is not currently possible, UNMAS believes it is possible to train local capacity to survey and clear cluster munitions and other ERW. Since these areas are inaccessible to qualified international staff, capacity building adapted to the threat and needs of communities will be the key to reducing the threat. To address this, UNMAS will begin a training and mentoring programme for national organisations in early 2016 to deal with specific explosive hazards safely.
n 2016, the mine action sector requires $37 million for a rapid and effective humanitarian mine action response, which includes explosive hazard survey, clearance, risk education and victim assistance. The appeal includes activities inside Syria, as well as cross-border activities and the provision of risk education to Syrian refugees living in neighbouring countries. As part of the response, UNMAS is seeking donor funding for the mine action sector to train teams to conduct cluster munitions clearance.
Updated: March 2016