The intensity of the fighting in the Middle East since 2014 has left cities, from Mosul to Aleppo to Da’raa, in ruins. Homes, schools, hospitals and vital infrastructure are littered with dangerous explosives including landmines, booby traps, cluster munitions and unexploded ordnance. In Fallujah, Iraq, Fadhil and Lava along with their six children, returned to the collapsed shell of their home at the beginning of the summer. They are slowly trying to rebuild their house but the high number of hidden improvised explosives (IEDs) in the neighbourhood pose a serious risk to their children. Moreover, the surrounding infrastructure cannot be repaired because of the contamination so leaving the house means sticking to the one road they know to be safe.
“I’m afraid for my children to play outside or go to school. I’m frightened of them catching disease from the dead bodies, or accidentally triggering a blast and getting killed.” Lava, Fallujah, Iraq
With support from Elrha’s Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF), HALO is addressing the challenge of clearing explosives hazards in post-conflict urban environments so that families like Fadhil’s and Lava’s can return home safely and reconstruction can begin. Recognising the complexity and scale of the problem, this project is seeking to clarify the exact nature of the challenge and to what extent solutions can be found from existing expertise outside of mine action.
HALO has spent several months on the ground in Fallujah, visiting urban locations which are littered with explosives. This has allowed us to assess the scale of the challenge as well as the effectiveness of current survey and clearance methods. We have met with families struggling to rebuild their lives due to the presence of IEDs and other dangerous items. Kasim is father to five girls and three boys but cannot return to his home in southern Fallujah because of the contamination risk. His house has been reduced to rubble and he found unexploded mortars in his backyard. By developing efficient methods of urban clearance, we will be able to help Kasim and many other families to return home more quickly.
Significant engagement has been achieved at International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) level, including an Urban Clearance Workshop which was held in Erbil Iraq, hosted by Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD). The specific challenges of urban clearance in Iraq were addressed in an initial meeting with the Iraqi National Authority. Elsewhere working groups focusing on complex and urban clearance have been held both remotely and in Geneva.
With the aim to develop an innovative solution for the assessment and clearance of urban environments, HALO is engaging with experts in related industries to share knowledge and skills, including JCB and Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVSED). A joint project has also been established with a US college to trial the development of small, bespoke pieces of equipment—incorporating them with academic study projects to reduce costs. In Iraq, HALO has met with local industries to understand their capability to produce innovative solutions in-country. This has already had positive results with a number of specialist items of equipment acquired to support and trial on the project.
Building on existing knowledge gained during HALO’s 30 years of humanitarian mine clearance is fundamental—from clearing Western Kabul, Afghanistan, in the 1990s, to working with a partner NGO organisation in Southern Syria, who were conducting clearance and survey work under HALO’s direct supervision. Five Iraqi survey team members therefore travelled to Jordan earlier this year to exchange knowledge and procedures with colleagues from Syria and Jordan who faced similar challenges in Syria.
To identify technical solutions that will allow the development of an integrated urban clearance system, HALO employed a capability consultant to review current practices. This has resulted in a number of refinements and recommendations that will be put in place. We have also reviewed the mechanical equipment we have available at the present time and its ability to tackle complex urban clearance in Afghanistan.
The systems, procedures and technical solutions developed under this project will have a far-reaching impact. They will be used to guide assessment and clearance to make cities, devastated by conflict, safe. From Syria, to Yemen, Libya to Iraq and beyond, millions of people will be able to return home safely, aid will be able to reach vulnerable populations and reconstruction begin.
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