The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in Iraq programme was launched in 2015 to assist the Government of Iraq (GoI) in managing the emergency response to the then-ongoing conflict against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The response was delivered primarily through a focused explosive hazard management (EHM) strategy allowing for effective clearance in support of stabilization efforts and supported significant explosive ordnance risk education (EORE) efforts to encourage civilian awareness of the explosive threat. The EHM strategy was implemented in parallel with technical and advisory support provided to relevant GoI mine action authorities and stakeholders to enhance and increase the EHM response capacity. Five years later, UNMAS has altered its strategy in response to the evolving humanitarian needs of Iraq and to support the GoI to assist civilians impacted by explosive ordnance (EO) and enable socio-economic development and welfare while, at the same time, creating sustainable national capacities. The UNMAS Iraq strategy in 2020 focused on supporting the GoI to effectively prioritize tasks implemented increasingly by national actors through providing technical support to the national mine action entities and promoting the capacity development of national mine action actors towards a sustainable and localized humanitarian mine action response. Furthermore, UNMAS continued to provide affected communities, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees with EORE in the areas retaken from ISIL to ensure that populations at risk recognized how to mitigate the threat of EO and could adopt safe behaviours. Through EHM activities, UNMAS assisted in creating the conditions necessary for safe access to restore or facilitate the productive use of contaminated land and infrastructure enabling thus the safe, dignified, and sustainable return of IDPs to areas previously occupied by ISIL.
In 2020, UNMAS Iraq prioritised the following areas of support:
- Support government and national mine action entities with managing, regulating, and coordinating a mine action response through Technical Support (TS) initiatives;
- Deliver Explosive Ordnance Risk Education (EORE) at the community and national level; and
- Provide Explosive Hazard Management (EHM) response in support of humanitarian and stabilization efforts.
Due to the nature of threats posed by EO, UNMAS and its implementing partners are among the first responders allowing the humanitarian community and local authorities to intervene quickly and efficiently to help civilians.
A significant mine action capacity gap remains in Iraq. The unprecedented nature of EO contamination, the sheer magnitude of dispersion, in addition to the untraditional ways in which they were planted, means that all who are in the vicinity of contaminated areas are at grave risk. Sporadic accidents due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and explosive remnants of war (ERW) have shed light on the crucial work that UNMAS together with other mine action organizations and the GoI, continue to conduct daily, and why a need for support remains, both advisory and on the field, to ensure that all clearance conducted abide by the international mine action standards (IMAS).
In March 2020, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the GoI to adopt swift measures including strict curfew and movement restrictions, applying also to mine action stakeholders. In this context, UNMAS Iraq observed all United Nations (UN) measures, as well as national and local government regulations and restrictions such as curfews, social distancing, wearing face masks, limiting staffing levels, work from home instructions, and movement restrictions in an attempt to contain, or slow down, the spread of COVID-19. UNMAS prepared business continuity plans and a “Safe Working Place” document to inform, prepare personnel, and mitigate against the spread of the Corona virus during travel, office, and field work. UNMAS Iraq also responded through a “Protect, Plan, and Resume” approach aiming to protect key relationships and processes and maintain a mine action capacity ready to ready to resume activities gradually when restrictions where lifted, which occurred in late June/early July. Throughout, UNMAS was able to maintain communication and technical support to the national authorities.