Sarajevo/New York -- Record flooding in the Balkans region in recent days could increase the risk of injuries and deaths from landmine accidents in Bosnia and Herzegovina, says the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and BH Mine Action Centre (BHMAC).
Bosnia and Herzegovina is still one of the most mine-contaminated countries in southeast Europe, with unexploded ordnance littering much of the countryside from recent conflicts. Over 600 601 people have been killed by explosive remnants of war since the end of the conflict in 1995.
UNDP has worked with the governments since 1996 to clear, record and mark mine fields. Over 2,6960 km2 has been cleared so far, but with close to three quarters of the 1,230 km2 of mine contaminated land now underwater, and over 2000 landslides reported, much of this progress may have been lost.
“Years of work to clear landmines and mark minefields could be in jeopardy as the flooding inundates the country, shifting mines from the ground and removing signs and markings,” said Yuri Afanasiev, UN Resident Coordinator to Bosnia and Herzegovina. “A mine is like a stone, easily transported by fast waters, so there is a real risk minefields may have migrated into new areas. We are now faced with the problem of determining where the new minefield borders are.”
The problem has also been compounded by more than 2000 landslides in flood affected areas.
The government released a warning today to people affected by the flooding. An BHMAC notice to international aid providers warns that anyone who sees “…a mine or other explosive materials, should mark them with improvised signs of danger and do not touch or move such devices or take them to the landfills.”
The problem of shifting minefields may also hamper the provision of aid and relief and debris clearance, with the governments also warning international rescue teams not to use alternative roads without prior consultation with the Mine Action Centre and Civilian Protection Service.
So far, no-one has been killed or injured by shifting mines and unexploded ordnance. However a number of incidents have been reported. A mine moved by waters exploded in the area of Brcko District in the north of the country; in Srebrenica and Bratunac, a cluster bomb appeared at the river bank as water receded; a landmine was uncovered by water on the main road connecting Olovo and Tuzla and an unexploded ordnance was found near a petrol station in Visoko, near Sarajevo.
Meanwhile, unexploded ordnance privately stored in people’s homes or disposed of in rivers may also present a problem. In Prijedor, west of the country, a refrigerator containing nine hand-grenades was transported by flood waters and found amongst debris.
Three months’ worth of rain fell on the region in just three days last week, killing nearly 50 people, displacing tens of thousands of people from their homes and causing billions of dollars in damage.