A hidden emergency: Why explosive ordnance contamination must be addressed now in Northwest Syria

Originally published


Unexploded bombs are Causing a Humanitarian Emergency in Northwest Syria

  • 3,500 accidents caused by explosive ordnance in five years
  • 25 per cent of explosives victims are children
  • Over 400 towns and villages contaminated with explosive ordnance
  • The biggest danger is cluster bombs – causing 42 per cent of accidents
  • Funding gap means HALO clearance will have to cease in January 2021

Gaziantep, Turkey, December 9, 2020 - Northwest Syria is facing an explosive ordnance contamination emergency as a result of the ongoing conflict. This debris of war is an additional hazard in what is already one of the world’s largest and most complex humanitarian crises.

Over the last two years, HALO has worked with national NGO partners to assess almost 1,000 towns and villages in Idlib and Aleppo Governorates in northwest Syria. This has led to the first comprehensive understanding of explosive ordnance contamination across northwest Syria.

The study found that 41 per cent of assessed communities were contaminated with munitions including rockets, grenades, projectiles, mortars, guided missiles, landmines and Improvised Explosive Devices.

According to the UN, 4.2 million people in northwestern Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance and over 2 million people are internally displaced. The last five years have seen over 3,500 explosive ordnance accidents but the true figure will be far higher as a result of underreporting.

Explosive ordnance poses a threat to life and limb for existing and returning populations. Accidents caused by explosive ordnance add pressure onto a health care system devastated by the conflict and prevent economic activity while curtailing freedom of movement.

Calvin Ruysen, The HALO Trust’s head of region for the Middle East said: “The impact of explosive ordnance in northwest Syria is a hidden emergency but people are being killed and are receiving horrendous life-changing injuries. Many people can’t use their lands safely to feed themselves. Others can’t reach basic services like schools and clinics. We are working with our local partners to address the problem but there are significant gaps in the amount of assistance currently available. The complex humanitarian crisis is affecting millions of people - unexploded munitions and shells exacerbate this crisis. People must be protected from this hideous threat.”

The study found that three-quarters of villages have access to farm land blocked by explosive debris. Half of all communities have housing that is inaccessible because of unexploded bombs.

HALO, with its partners have supported 3,000 victims of accidents in northwest Syria with prosthetics, physiotherapy, psycho-social support and other treatment and has provided risk education - lessons in how to stay safe around explosives - to 420,000 people. HALO’s work in northwest Syria currently represents over 50 per cent of the collective Mine Action effort. However, if HALO’s funding gap is not addressed, current activities will be forced to cease from January 2021.

Report recommendations:

  1. Address the 2021 critical funding gap to ensure current activities are maintained.

  2. Increase survey and clearance capacity across northwest Syria, reducing the threat to life and limb, improving safe access and strengthening economic resilience.

  3. Continue to provide victim assistance and explosive ordnance risk education, protecting and empowering vulnerable populations.

  4. Diversify partnerships by integrating Humanitarian Mine Action into wider humanitarian programming.

  5. Develop and implement a Humanitarian Mine Action strategic plan to guide near and longer term priorities, spanning the five pillars of humanitarian mine action.

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Notes to editors:

  1. The full contamination impact report is available here.

  2. The report is based on field research and operations conducted by The HALO Trust and implementing partners, Shafak, HiHFAD and iMFAD. It also draws on data available from the UN as well as a range of interviews and public reports.

  3. This research and report was part of a project funded by ECHO and HALO’s achievements in northwest Syria have been possible thanks to funding from ECHO, the Governments of the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium, and through the UN.

  4. The HALO Trust is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation dealing with landmines and other explosive dangers that threaten civilians. HALO operates in over 25 countries and territories and employs around 8,500 staff.

  5. Photographs of unexploded ordnance in Syria are available here.