The 5-day war between Georgia and Russia in August 2008 resulted in significant contamination from cluster munitions and other ordnance, to the north of the Georgian town of Gori. Hundreds died and around 150,000 civilians were displaced.
Shida Kartli, one of the country's most productive agricultural areas, was the most affected region. Thousands of people were displaced or unable to farm safely, leaving them without homes and in poverty. There are also areas outside Georgia's conflict zones which are in civilian use where mines and UXO continue to cause casualties, including former military bases, border minefields and former military training areas.
In the year after the war, HALO's 300 staff cleared more than 1,700 hazardous items from 3,400 hectares of land. By the end of 2009 Shida Kartli had been successfully cleared, allowing internally displaced people to return to their homes and begin farming again. Since 2009 we have also cleared land close to the administrative boundary with the breakaway region of South Ossetia, an area previously unused by farmers due to security concerns.
Between 2010 and 2017 HALO cleared the minefields from around five former Soviet military bases which were being used for a variety of purposes by the local people. This clearance was particularly challenging as the sites were full of military rubbish and armoured machinery was necessary to remove and process large amounts of soil containing landmines.
In 2017, HALO finished clearing a minefield from around a former Soviet military base in Chognari, western Georgia. The cleared land is now being used to construct a reservoir, which will supply fresh water to the 147,000 inhabitants of the nearby city of Kutaisi.
There are still some mined areas in Georgia, but the problem is clearly defined. The next step is clearance of the six remaining minefields in Georgia. Chief among these is the Red Bridge minefield, a 7-kilometre long minefield near the borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan. We remain grateful to our dedicated donors, the Government of Japan, who continue to support our work.
Abkhazia was contaminated with mines during the 1992-1993 war precipitated by the collapse of the Soviet Union. After 14 years of HALO mine clearance, Abkhazia was declared mine impact free in November 2011. An area of more than 3,700 acres (1,500 hectares) was cleared, with 9,788 mines and 48,998 items of UXO (unexploded ordnance) found and destroyed.
Although Abkhazia is mine impact free, ordnance continues to be a problem. Ordnance from the war is routinely found during farming, construction and other daily activities. In addition, many individuals hold ordnance in their homes as a legacy of the war. Over time people have grown to understand the ongoing danger this poses and are increasingly asking to hand in ordnance however they need an anonymous process they can trust and any item needs to be disposed of carefully.
In August 2017, there was an explosion at a local military ammunition store close to the village of Primorsky, in the Gudauta region of Abkhazia. The explosion killed 3 people, wounded 64 more, and damaged or destroyed over 130 homes. It also scattered an estimated 100,000 items of unexploded ordnance over 4.5 million square metres of inhabited land and forest, and these now pose a risk for thousands of people who live and work nearby.
HALO's mission in Abkhazia is to ensure that the population is safe by promptly disposing of any mines, bombs and ordnance that are found or that need to be safely destroyed. Between April 2017 and March 2018, 762 items of unexploded ordnance were safely removed and destroyed as a result of EOD call outs and HALOs systematic village visits. In the same period, we destroyed 8.4 tonnes of explosive items from stockpiles. HALO also oversees the Abkhazia Mine Action Office, which maintains detailed reports and maps of clearance operations - an important resource for anyone developing rural land.
In 2017 HALO’s response to the ammunition store explosion in Primorsky began immediately, with generous funding from the UK Government through CSSF and the European Union through UNDP. One year on (August 2018) HALO has cleared over 33,500 explosive items from over 1.1 million square metres of land, but a large amount still remains. This presents both a humanitarian risk and security risk as items of unexploded ordnance may be taken from the site.
HALO has also expanded its mission to facilitate post-conflict development by rehabilitating damaged rural road infrastructure. Collapsed bridges and culverts and eroded roads are cutting people off from their land, schools, critical services and markets. We have rehabilitated or rebuilt 24 critical items of infrastructure improving the lives of thousands of inhabitants.
HALO is grateful for support from donors including the UK Government through CSSF the European Union through UNDP. However, the destruction of stockpiles and ordnance remains a high priority, especially in the vicinity of the Primorsky explosion, where the threat remains very high. HALO is currently the only organisation in a position to conduct the latter work and make Abkhazia safer, but continued donor support is required to reduce the humanitarian risk to local civilians and the security risk further afield.