Now in its seventh year, the humanitarian crisis in Syria continues to generate intolerable levels of hardship and deprivation with the presence of a variety of explosive remnants of war (ERW) including improvised explosive devices and cluster munitions, restricting access to humanitarian assistance and basic services.
Persistent disregard for the laws of war means that the civilian population of Syria is being deliberately targeted with artillery bombardment and airstrikes directed against internally displaced people (IDPs), besieged communities, medical facilities and relief centres. Casualties are not only happening at the time of attack but subsequently due to the failure rates of weapons which cause a deadly hazard long after they have been fired.
It is estimated that half the total housing stock has been damaged and much of it is contaminated with explosive remnants of war. There is widespread use of IEDs, particularly in areas of shifting front lines. Of particular concern is the use of water as weapon of war with the deliberate placement of booby traps in the water and sanitation network.
While the full extent of contamination is not yet known in Syria, surveys indicate that:
- 6.3 million people live in ERW contaminated areas
- People in 88 per cent of Syria's sub-districts view ERW as a main protection concern
- Agricultural land is contaminated with ERW in 57 per cent of sub-districts
- Private housing is contaminated with ERW in 38 per cent of sub-districts
HALO has partnered with the Syrian grassroots NGO Shafak to improve the security of local populations and facilitate the safe return of IDPs and refugees to their homes. Currently, HALO is reducing the impact ERW has on communities by conducting risk education, with particular focus on children and other vulnerable groups. HALO is also preparing for future clearance by conducting contamination impact surveys and victim data gathering to develop an understanding of where ERW are located and how they are affecting civilian populations.
Through risk education, HALO aims to respond to protection needs and inform communities of the risk ERW pose and how to behave safely. The teams conduct risk education sessions in both public and private spaces (i.e. streets, schools or homes) and adapt their sessions depending on their audience. Children, for example, require different messaging to adult males who work on farms. HALO aims to reach all people in affected communities so it has placed particular emphasis on reaching women, and women with children, who are less likely to attend group activities in some communities, and are thus less likely to receive risk education.
Risk education sessions are interactive and cover a range of topics including how to recognize different types of ERW, including IED's, where they might be located and how to behave safely upon encountering them. Risk education is particularly important for people returning to their homes after being displaced as they might not know about the presence of ERW in their communities.
HALO is currently supporting seven teams conducting risk education who have so far reached nearly 72,000 beneficiaries in ldleb, Aleppo and Rural Damascus.
Contamination Impact Survey
Contamination impact survey (CIS) teams visit communities to determine whether they are affected by ERW and to record any contamination for future clearance and survey. Currently, HALO is supporting three teams conducting CIS in ldleb and Northern Aleppo. To date, the teams have surveyed 15 communities, comprised of 51 neighbourhoods, of these, 46 reported ERW contamination and are in need of further support.
The findings from CIS are compiled in reports that will form the basis for future clearance in the area. The reports give HALO a better understanding of the extent of contamination and, along with other data collected, allow HALO to identify which areas are impacted the most by ERW. Identifying areas with greatest need means that HALO will be ready to respond immediately and effectively when access for clearance improves.
Victim Data Collection
The teams visit ERW victims, or the families of deceased victims, to gather information about how and where an accident occurred. They are ask what the victim was doing at the time of the accident, and what activities led to it. The teams also monitor its social and economic impact.
With victim consent, information is passed on to Handicap International who provide specialised rehabilitation assistance. The information collected is analysed and used to develop a comprehensive understanding of where and how communities are being affected by ERW. With the data we have collected so far, we are able to determine that young men are the most likely to be killed or injured by ERW as a result of ordinary activities like farming and herding, or more high-risk behaviour, such as moving explosive items.
This information can be used to better tailor risk education initiatives and work out which areas are high priority for clearance when access is possible.