Land in Al-Zubair District farmed for the first time since the Gulf War (1990–1991)
In August 2022, NPA conducted clearance of a hazardous area in Safwan village in the Al-Zubair District of Basra Governorate, Iraq.
By Marijn van Broekhoven
One of the farmers in the area is Ali Hussain Hilal (23), who lives together with his parents and nine younger siblings. Three years ago, Ali’s family bought farmland in Safwan. Although they had always worked as farmers, Ali’s family had never previously owned their own land. What they didn’t know, however, was that the land they had bought was contaminated with cluster munition remnants left from the Gulf War. When Ali and his family started plowing their land for the first time, they discovered suspicious items buried in the ground. Ali explains: “My father found the first item. He didn’t know exactly what it was, but he knew that it was dangerous. We have heard about many accidents involving explosive remnants of war, so when we found this item, we immediately reported it to the local authorities.”
Ali says that after they had found the explosive items, they knew it would be very dangerous to use the land, and therefore, they waited until it would be cleared. However, because of that, they struggled financially as they were unable to generate any income from their new farm. They still had some income from their sheep, but they were worried about letting them roam around the contaminated areas, so they had to keep them in the enclosure next to their house.
Following the initial report by Ali’s family, the relevant local mine action authorities were informed, and they tasked NPA to conduct non-technical survey (NTS) in the area. NPA’s NTS team in Basra visited the area on 21 July 2022 to conduct the survey, defining and reporting the mapped hazardous area. During their visit, the NTS team also provided explosive ordnance risk education (EORE) to Ali and his family to help them to stay safe in potentially dangerous areas. An additional session was conducted later to also include other farmers from the area.
Based on the hazardous area report produced by the NTS team, NPA deployed a clearance team to the area at the start of August 2022. The team was able to clear the area in just three weeks, with the task fully completed by 22 August. A total of 67,000 m2 of land was cleared from the task. During the clearance, the team found five cluster munitions, all of which were safely removed and handed over to the Iraqi Security Forces to be destroyed.
Following the completion of the task the land was formally returned to Ali and his family, who immediately began cultivating it, mostly for farming tomatoes. They were able to harvest their land for the first time in December and sell the tomatoes at the local market.
“We are very grateful that the land has finally been cleared, our income is better now that we can use our fields for growing tomatoes and other crops”
- Ali Hussain Hilal
NPA thanks the U.S. State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) for their ongoing support for survey and clearance of cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war from Safwan and other villages in Basra Governorate.