War and disasters

Mine awareness and assistance in mine action day

The deadly legacy of conflicts in the Middle East.

Updated 04 Apr 2022

Mine awareness and assistance in mine action day

Mine awareness and assistance in mine action day

Land contaminated with mines

We are all too familiar with images of conflict on our TV screens. For those who have lived or are living in war zones, there is a less reported but significant and widespread risk that leads to a threat of death, serious injury and long-term disabilities, and will remain an enduring obstacle to socio-economic and environmental recovery of affected communities for years to come: that of landmines or other unexploded ordnances.

Across the Middle East, the conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen have resulted in some of the highest levels of contamination (the prevalence of these items) in the world.  In Iraq, almost 1,800km2 of land is contaminated and since 2017, just under 40,000 casualties linked to landmines or other explosive ordnances have been reported.

In Yemen and Syria, schools are surrounded by explosive ordnances, resulting in children facing huge risks just to get to school, or missing school completely.  It can also mean that schools damaged by conflict are not rebuilt. Wells are filled with landmines limiting access to water, and farmers’ fields filled with landmines prevent people living in these communities from earning a living.

In 2020 in Yemen, 129 civilians lost their lives when a landmine or other ordnance exploded.  In 2021, there were 338 civilian casualties and contamination was the leading cause of child casualty across the country, even with an increase in the conflict towards the end of the year. According to UNICEF, in 2021 in Syria, 900 children were killed or injured and left with lifelong disabilities. Landmines or unexploded ordnance were the leading cause. 

A Family in Yemen living in an area contaminated by landmines and other unexploded ordnance which prevents them from accessing livelihoods and making ends meet.  Cherry Franklin/DRC

A Family in Yemen living in an area contaminated by landmines and other unexploded ordnance which prevents them from accessing livelihoods and making ends meet. Cherry Franklin/DRC

The deadly legacy of conflict

As people are forced to flee violence, they are even more exposed to the danger of explosive ordnances.  Without knowing the areas they are travelling through, often moving quickly or in darkness, families are forced into fields filled with this danger. 

DRC programmes in countries hosting Syrian refugees have identified several families who have experienced explosive ordnance incidents en route. 

Not only are there challenges in accessing immediate medical, including mental health, attention; the injuries caused can limit families in meeting basic needs when they arrive at their destination.

Contamination also continues to hamper safe and sustainable returns as it limits freedom of movement, access to education, healthcare and public services and prevents families from earning a living. Imagine walking back into your home in what was formally an active conflict area and turning on a light switch, only for something to explode.  

This is the deadly legacy of conflict.

Support to communities in the Middle East

Support to communities in the Middle East

On this International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, families across the Middle East are living with this danger every day.  

DRC works across the region to support communities, both with risk education programmes – reaching over 60,000 people in 2021 – and clearing and surveying hundreds of square kilometres of lands.

Our work, and that of other agencies, is complicated by complex access negotiations and funding constraints that limit the ability to plan a holistic approach to mine clearance alongside national authorities.

There are also conventions in international law prohibiting those weapons that many states, including those where conflict is taking place, those involved in them and those providing assistance to conflict affected populations and countries, have signed. Yet accountability on the use of these indiscriminate, banned weapons is lacking.

It’s time to come to work together to ensure this deadly legacy of conflicts across the Middle East doesn’t cost the lives of more innocent people and that communities living with the threat of explosive ordnance can finally rebuild their lives in a safe, development conducive environment. 

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