At least a million unexploded rocket and artillery cluster bombs are posing huge risks to people returning to their homes in southern Lebanon after the recent war, reports relief and development agency Christian Aid and its regional partners.
Unexploded ordnance such as shells, grenades and bombs may detonate at any time and children playing among rubble are at greatest risk along with farmers returning to what is left of their harvest.
ìAt least a few times a week we hear that someone has been injured or killed by a cluster bomb,î said Nizar Amine of Christian Aid partner Mouvement Social (MS), an organisation which has been repairing damaged schools in the south of Lebanon in preparation for the new academic term.
One of the schools MS has been repairing, with the help of a team of volunteers, is in Srifa, one of the first villages to be bombed during the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel this summer.
ìIn Srifa I heard of two young men ñ teenagers around 17 or 18 years old ñ one of whom was killed and the other severely injured by cluster bombs,î said Amine.
She added: ìThese two youths stayed in Srifa throughout the war, sheltering from the bombing, and when they went back to their home to pick up the pieces of what was left, they were hit by a cluster bomb. One died.î
The UN Mine Action Coordination Centre estimates that around 40 per cent of Israelís cluster bombs failed to detonate.
ìThis will have huge implications for the reconstruction efforts and the ability of displaced people to pick up the pieces of their lives,î commented Sarah Malian, Christian Aidís Middle East communications officer.
She continued: ìIt could take up to eighteen months for mine clearance teams to rid southern Lebanon of these bombs. As well as the risk of injury or death this will have a huge economic impact on farmers unable to enter their fields.î
Hundreds of bomblets are packed into the cluster bombs, which are fired from the ground or dropped by aircraft. The bomblets are now caught in the branches of olive trees, scattered through farmland or across gardens, playgrounds, roads and schools.
With the onset of winter it will become increasingly difficult for clearance teams to operate as rain will cause unexploded ordnance to sink further into the ground.
According to Lebanonís National Demining Office there have so far been 20 deaths and 113 injuries due to landmines, unexploded ordnance or cluster bombs since the end of the war ñ an average of three injuries or deaths a day.
Around 90 per cent of the cluster bomb shells were launched by Israel during the last three days of the war, when the UN was in the process of negotiating a resolution and an impending ceasefire was already within sight.
ìWe know these munitions have a failure rate and it seems to me extraordinary that they were fired off in the last hours of the war into areas where civilian populations were known to be going,î said United Nationas humanitarian coordinator in Beirut David Shearer.
The UN Security Council passed a resolution to end the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah on Friday 11 August and the ceasefire came into effect on 14 August 2006.
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