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United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS)
18 May 2010
Mine Action Team
Humanitarian mine action interventions have continued successfully in Gaza during March-April 2010 with funding from the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DfiD) and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid). On 10 March 2010, the UNMAT-GO started the demolitions of white phosphorus items. This is a breakthrough for the Mine Action programme – and for the entire United Nations in the oPt - since it involves the transfer of explosives into the territory, amid the blockade regime imposed on the Strip since June 2007. As of 30 April, UNMAT Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Teams have succeeded in the demolition of 74 x 155 mm white phosphorus items (shells and canisters) by controlled demolitions at the Central Demolition Site, in Southern Gaza, in collaboration with relevant authorities within Gaza and Israel.
Moreover, as of 30 April 2010, EOD teams have assessed 1,642 sites and properties (i.e., 887,756 m²) destroyed/hit during “Operation Cast Lead”. These tasks are to determine the risk of contamination by UXO or explosive remnants of war (ERW) before the rubble is removed or roads rehabilitated by several stakeholders in Gaza. Of the total, 1,510 of those sites were residential properties housing approximately 14,662 civilians. Conservative estimates indicate that a total of 57,631 beneficiaries in Gaza have directly benefited from the EOD risk assessments so far. This number does not include the direct beneficiaries of: the four UNRWA schools, the 38 UNICEF-supported Government schools, all major road access routes, two health clinics, the UN facilities and other distribution and industrial sites. Those were cleared by UNMAT teams in the initial 10 days following its deployment into Gaza (end Jan. 2009).
UNMAT EOD Rapid Response activities are also ongoing with teams responding to requests from the local population, local and international NGOs, other UN agencies and the local authorities. These call for UNMAT’s EOD support when finding/suspecting the presence of an UXO/ERW or when working on a previously-assessed high risk sites. There have been over 255 such requests to UNMAT so far. Ten UXOs were found in March and April (including five white phosphorus), bringing the total of UXOs found since operations began to 355 (including 63 white phosphorus and 71 anti-tank mines) and 2,100 small arms ammunition. Over half of the UXOs were actually found in the rubble of destroyed buildings during Rubble Removal activities conducted by UNDP, UNRWA and CHF since 7 July 2009.
Mine action staff have also provided 206 UXO safety awareness/training/briefings/training of trainers to 4,712 persons since the beginning of operations, including personnel involved in UN and NGO humanitarian activities within Gaza as well as individuals amongst the at-risk local population.
Finally, UNMAT’s Community liaison component has been reinforced in 2010. The team has, among other initiatives (see p.5–Focus on Rapid outcome survey), facilitated a Mine Risk Education (MRE) material design workshop in Gaza on 21 March. Overall, participants from MAG, WHO, ICRC, PCDRC, Mercy Corps, ISM, PRCS, CHF, Save the Children, Handicap International and UNICEF agreed on the following populations as groups at risk of U XO hazard: children; rubble workers (rubble removal workers and supervisors, scrap collectors, construction workers, etc.); returnees (general population who is likely to return to a destroyed or damaged home); farmers; and NGO outreach workers. The participants identified the risk behaviours for each group, the obstacles to adoption of safe behaviours, the basic MRE messages to be disseminated and the most effective media to be used for each target audience. Material will be designed in the course of April-June (leaflets, posters, radio spots). UNMAS’ armored vehicle (funded by DfiD) and additional demolition equipment have finally been deployed into Gaza during the reporting period, substantially improving UNMAT’s operations in the field.
UNMAT would like to particularly thank UNRWA for its unfailing assistance in providing additional vehicles to the Team whenever required.
DESTRUCTION OF WHITE PHOSPHORUS UXOS
IN THE GAZA STRIP
With the acquisition of explosives in mid-February 2010 by UNMAS, destruction of UXOs finally started in Gaza on 10 March. This was enabled through intensive negotiations and discussions with relevant authorities in Gaza and in Israel.
The priority has been given to the destruction of white phosphorus 155mm artillery rounds given the particular threat they pose to the population and the environment. The preparation for destruction of white phosphorus as well as the demolitions themselves have proven to be a particularly sustained and resource intensive process, given the particularities of the environment in Gaza and subsequent restrictions.
UNMAT faced considerable challenges in preparing the Central Demolition Site and defining the techniques to be used for the demolition of white phosphorus in such context. The systems and processes that have been put in place have been proven and tested and constantly refined, resulting in the successful and safe destruction of 74 items.
Media interest and attendance on the sites was considerable in the first weeks of the demolitions.
UNMAS thanks the relevant authorities in Gaza for their cooperation in facilitating the demolitions, and the Israeli authorities for assisting in the transfer of explosives in Gaza, enabling the disposal of the munitions.
White Phosphorus UXO are placed on metal rails in specially prepared bins where the explosive cutting charge, prepared by the MAG EOD Technicians are attached to the shell. The charge is designed to cut the shell in half to allow the White Phosphorus to burn in a controlled environment. Due to the technical challenges in dealing with White Phosphorus UXO, the UNMAT has implemented this specific methodology to reduce the harmful affect on the surrounding environment, and especially the water aquifers below Gaza.
As a result of the cutting charge the WP shell is split open to allow any remaining WP after the initial explosion to burn off within the demolitions Burning down white phosphorus felt wedges on metal plates within the demolition pens, with personal protective equipment.
RAPID OUTCOME SURVEY OF THE UXO RISK ASSESSMENTS
AND EOD RAPID RESPONSE SUPPORT
A Rapid survey undertaken by UNMAT’s Community Liaison Team (MAG) in March 2010 concluded that UXO Risk Assessments and EOD support in Gaza had the following positive outcomes on the population:
Rubble removal was made possible on a large number of public and private buildings by other organizations (notably UNRWA, UNDP, CHF);
Areas were made safe as the threat of UXO and the threat of rubble were both removed;
Owners feel safer and more secure thanks to UNMAT EOD expertise on UXO risk;
Owners feel more hopeful about their future and possible reconstruction;
Public facilities such as roads and schools have been rehabilitated or built following UNMAT’s intervention;
In certain cases, owners have been able to generate some income, whether through the sale of rubble parts (mostly metal bars) or furniture/electrical appliances found in the rubble of their property, or through resuming their professional activity following the rubble removal;
Improved public facilities has allowed better access to health, education, clean water and other basic services; and
Cleared public and private areas have improved relations in t h e community among neighbours.
The survey showed very clearly that the psychological impact of having experts confirming an area to be safe for the community or the land owner, and particularly their children, and seeing the rubble subsequently removed, is very significant for beneficiaries. Interviewees placed safety and security as one of their priorities in life and are grateful to UNMAT for mitigating the UXO threat.
However, private housing beneficiaries long for something UNMAT cannot provide: the reconstruction of their house and the recovery of everything they have lost during “Operation Cast Lead”.
If the outcome of UNMAT’s work is positive and seems to be fairly significant, the situation of most private beneficiaries remains extremely difficult. Living conditions are unhealthy with very large families staying in small quarters, poverty is increasing rapidly as funds are being spent on rent and no income can be sustained. Depression is b e coming general as interviewees declare themselves “desperate” and “fed up”. The need for more support is obvious and a vast majority of interviewees asked for help on the following: financial support to pay rents, compensation for lost houses and furniture, material and/or financial support for reconstruction, material and political support to obtain better gas and electricity services, better health care for the injured, and psychological support for children and adults.
Mr. Nahim Wedouane El Mardi
Mr. Nahim Wedouane El Mardi used to have a five-storey house where he and his five sons used to live with a family of approximately 50 people. They were inside the house when the bombing started and had to run away. His granddaughter who was six years old was killed while they were trying to escape. The house was partially destroyed:
it was quite new, that is why some of it is still standing”, explained Mr. El Mardi. During the risk assessment conducted by the EOD Teams, some 15 mines were found in the house and in the rubble. The basement had also been targeted by White Phosphorus shells which burnt everything. He currently lives here with his wife and some of his relatives but his sons had to find houses to rent. All the family is still badly affected by what happened and their current living conditions are difficult: there is not enough space, the roof leaks, and they lost most of their furniture. However, the fact that mines were found and removed was significant to them. Mr. El Mardi says he feels safer now and he is relieved that the family can use the first storey, now that it is made safe. Safety was the first step in reconstruction. It is not enough by itself, and the family is hoping for support in rebuilding their house, but if there had been no risk assessment, they would have nowhere to live now.
Mr. Basam Abu Sharia
Mr. Basam Abu Sharia is the director of the El Shams sports club in Gaza city. The building and grounds of the center were shelled during the war and everything was destroyed. Mr Abu Sharia paid to have it rebuilt, with support from the Ministry of Sports. The center now has offices, changing rooms, and the football grounds. At the moment, there are about 50 staff employed there, teaching football, karate, basket-ball, handball, and kick-boxing. Mr. Abu Sharia considers that the reconstruction of the sports club has been for the benefit of the entire community: teenagers and adults have been coming back to play sports which is good for their spirits, “it helps people think of positives things; we are doing our best to make the children feel normal again”. Mr. Abu Sharia is grateful for the work of UNMAT: “I could not have done a visual search by myself, I am not an expert in UXO. I know they found some fragments, no bombs, but I couldn’t tell by myself.” However, private housing beneficiaries long for something UNMAT cannot provide: the reconstruction of their house and the recovery of everything they have lost during “Operation Cast Lead”. If the outcome of UNMAT’s work is positive and seems to be fairly significant, the situation of most private beneficiaries remains extremely difficult. Living conditions are unhealthy with very large families staying in small quarters, poverty is increasing rapidly as funds are being spent on rent and no income can be sustained. Depression is becoming general as interviewees declare themselves “desperate” and “fed up”. The need for more support is obvious and a vast majority of interviewees asked for help on the following: financial support to pay rents, compensation for lost houses and furniture, material and/or financial support for reconstruction, material and political support to obtain better gas and electricity services, better health care for the injured, and psychological support for children and adults.
Mr. Ismak Salah
Mr. Ismak Salah is a farmer. He used to live in a one storey house on his land before it was bulldozed during the war. He currently lives at his father’s house with his family of seven. His house was almost completely destroyed: only three walls were still standing. After the risk assessment and rubble removal, he managed to put up another wall and build a small rudimentary bathroom so that he can spend the day
on his land to farm. He has planted olive trees and vegetables using seedlings which he received from the Ministry of Agriculture. He was also promised some pipes for irrigation but he is still waiting. He hopes to sell some of this production, but for now the plants are too young. It was thanks to UNMAT’s work that he could plant again.
Mr. Youssef Jamala
Mr. Youssef Jamala
owns a small fruit and vegetable shop opposite the former site of the ministry complex in Gaza city. The ministry building was destroyed by some very heavy shelling during the very first days of the war. MAG conducted a Risk assessment on the site in April 2009 and the rubble was removed shortly thereafter. Mr. Jamala remembers that there used to be rubble all over the street and that neighbours were scared both of UXO and of rubble threatening to collapse further. "Now at least we feel better and safer. It was miserable looking at the destroyed building before. Also, the rubble blocked the whole street and it was difficult to walk or drive here, people couldn’t come or go." Mr. Jamal’s business benefited from the removal of the UXO and rubble which lay on the site. He was able to open his shop again and regain his customers.
CASE-STUDY: ICRC ROAD REHABILITATION
The ICRC started road rehabilitation work in October 2009, referred to as “project 5”. They opened a backyard area which was not in use to improve the inhabitants’ access to the local schools and hospital. ICRC used a cash-for work approach where they recruited local community members to do the works. This road leads to and links agricultural land to a major route for Khan Younis and Khuza’a. It also leads to a number of schools and a college which were inaccessible to local inhabitants before the project.
UNMAT EOD Teams were called to undertake a risk assessment in the area, because an anti-vehicle mine was found in the past, and IDF operations had taken place in the general area. UNMAT EOD Teams made a risk assessment and consequently provided EOD support. Overall, UNMAT assessed 4,560 square meters; the road is now about 1 km long and 8 meters wide. The workers and the ICRC staff also received a safety briefing about the risks of UXO.
According to neighbours, the road now makes their daily life easier and more convenient: it takes them a few minutes to go to the nearby shops, schools and hospital instead of the one hour they spent walking before the road was created. Neighbours heard about UXOs being found in the dense cactus area it used to be, and they were always careful to avoid it.
Today, the road is being used by numerous children going to school, local businesses, and the entire
The current contributions from DfiD and AusAid will enable the implementation of the programme in Gaza until the end of June for UNMAS and MSB and the end of July for MAG and Global Medics.
An in-depth assessment of the UNMAT programme in Gaza will be conducted in May to ascertain the exact extent of the required Mine Action capacity within Gaza for the remainder of the year. It is foreseen that the current teams will be needed, with a somewhat different composition and tasking. This is due to the decrease in the number of requests for risk assessments and EOD support to rubble removal, an expected shift towards a greater number of assessments of agricultural areas (possibly for ICRC, FAO, CHF, ACF, NRC, Care International, etc.) and the possible continuation of demolition tasks The European Commission and UNDP-PAPP (through Government of Japan) have pledged their contribution to fund required needs for the UNMATGO until the end of 2010.
At the request of a number of agencies and NGOs in Gaza, UNMAS is currently evaluating, in conjunction with the UN Country Team, the potential need for and composition of a residual Mine Action component in Gaza after this period. UNMAT’s success in Gaza has invigorated discussions among UN partners and key stakeholders on how the UN might assist in mine action interventions in the West Bank, Israel and the Golan, where humanitarian mine action is lacking. UNMAS has started engaging with Palestinian and Israeli authorities and the UN Country Team regarding possible mine action interventions in those areas starting from 2011. These could range from in-depth threats and needs assessment; capacity-building/development; funding; coordination; quality assurance; mapping, resurvey, marking and recording of known mine fields; survey and record suspected hazardous areas; fencing; mine/UXO clearance; and Mine risk education. UNMAT’s GIS officer has now finalized the mapping of all minefields in the West Bank, Israel and the Golan into the OCHA system. Given that a large majority of those in the
West Bank are located in area C (mostly populated by Bedouins), OCHA will within next month include the minefields in their “Area C community maps”, recently developed to facilitate the implementation of high priority humanitarian projects in Area C. The NGO Survivor Corps has, on 10 May 2010, submitted to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) a bill that seeks to clear all of Israel’s non-operationally necessary land mines. A majority of Members of Parliament (73 out of 120) have signed on to sup
port the bill in advance of its presentation.
Useful Mine Action Websites
Objectives of the UNMAT-GO mission in the Gaza Strip
1. Providing freedom from fear: minimizing the threat of death or injury caused by UXO to those living and working in Gaza; and
2. Enhancing freedom from want: supporting rubble removal, reconstruction and rehabilitation of housing, infrastructure, agricultural land and livelihood's in line with the Palestinian National Authority Early Recovery & Reconstruction Plan 2009-2010 (2 March 2009) and UN Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009).
The UNMAT-GO is currently composed of an UNMAS management and coordination team and five EOD Teams from the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), two medics provided by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) and a paramedic provided by Global Medic...UNRWA has provided two ambulances on loan to the Mine Action Programme to ensure immediate support and evacuation in case of an accident. An ambulance is present on site for all demolitions and on all EOD rapid response tasks...Leftover explosives and detonation cord are systematically destroyed on site after each round of demolitions. UNMAT-GO does not store any explosive or detonation cord in Gaza.