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Lebanon’s contamination legacy - 10 years later

Approximately 17 million square meters of land contaminated by cluster munitions still remains to be cleared in Lebanon. At the same time, contamination from landmines continues to affect the local population (Photo: NPA/Rachana Atmeh).  

10 years later, Lebanon’s legacy of landmine and cluster munition contamination is still affecting the lives of the Lebanese people. 

 

Today, Lebanon is relatively peaceful, even though there is an ongoing civil war in neighbouring Syria. However, from the mid 1970’s, Lebanon has endured its own strife with the start of a civil war which ended in the early 90’s. Lebanon faced further conflicts thereafter, the most notable of which in 2006 when Israel invaded Lebanon’s Southern region, a conflict better known as the July War. Even though the conflict only lasted just over a month, there were many casualties mainly due to the number of cluster bombs dropped on South Lebanon, containing over four million cluster submunitions.

Lebanon, together with the international donor community, including Norway, Japan, the European Union, United States, and the Netherlands, has made much progress in removing the deadly legacy of the cluster munition contamination from this conflict. Lebanon signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) in 2008 and ratified the treaty in 2010, which entered into force for Lebanon on 1 May 2011. Under the treaty, Lebanon is required to fully remove the threat posed by cluster munition contamination by May 2021.

10 years on from the end of the July War, Norwegian People’s Aid’s (NPA) Humanitarian Disarmament Programme continues to deploy cluster munition clearance teams in South Lebanon in support of the fulfillment of Lebanon’s clearance obligations under the CCM. While much progress has been made to remove the majority of the cluster munition problem to date, approximately 17 million square meters of contaminated land remains to be cleared.

At the same time, contamination from landmines continues to affect the local population. The majority of the mines were laid by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on the Lebanese side of the border before Israel withdrew its occupation forces in May 2000. There has been increasing pressure on the authorities from the communities living next to the North Echo road, along the Blue Line, to remove the landmines in order to access the predominantly agricultural land south of the Echo road. In November 2015, the Lebanese authorities requested support from the international donor community and international mine action NGOs to assist in the clearance of these landmines. In 2016, the Norwegian Ambassador to Lebanon, H.E Line Hind, and a delegation from the Japanese Embassy, visited the North Echo road on the Blue Line, hosted by NPA and the Lebanese Mine Action Centre (LMAC).

January 2017 witnessed the first NPA landmine clearance teams being deployed in an area on the North Echo road, next to the town of Rmeich. The teams are funded by both Japan (Grass Roots Programme) and Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Landmine victim Sultan Mustafa (Photo: NPA/Hassan Hamzeh). 

Sultan Mustafa is a 36-year-old father of four and lives with his family in Beit Leif village in the district of Bent Jubeil, South Lebanon. On 20 May 2008, Sultan became a victim of a landmine accident and lost his left leg, while picking wild herbs from a field on the North Echo road.

- I was picking wild herbs, Salvia and Thyme, in Rhmeich village near the border to Israel. I missed my usual road and accidentally walked into a landmine field. At the time, I had my doubts about whether it was a mined area but I knew it was a risky maneuver. It was a huge explosion. It was a shock. I fell down, looked directly at my leg and it was amputated. A United Nations vehicle arrived at the scene to transport me to the nearest hospital, Salah Ghandour hospital. My life did not stop here, I decided to go on, move on, and to continue my life as normally as possible. To keep doing what I've always done and provide for my family, says Mustafa.

This incident not only affected him physically, but also psychologically, socially, and economically. For years, Sultan faced difficulties in working, taking care of himself and his family, and coping with his disability. Luckily, he survived this horrific ordeal which has left him requiring the use of a prosthetic limb. He has since found work as a farmer which enables him to provide the basic needs for his family and cover necessary hospital costs such as for physiotherapy.

Norwegian People’s Aid’s Humanitarian Disarmament programme would like to thank the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Embassy of Japan in Lebanon, the European Union, and United States’ Department of State for their continuous support to NPA’s clearance efforts in South Lebanon.

24.03.2017 | Hassan Hamzeh , Rachana Atmeh
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