Radio spots warn Libyans of unexploded ordnance

Bombs, grenades left over from civil war are danger to civilians, warns International Committee of the Red Cross.

By ARIEH O’SULLIVAN / THE MEDIA LINE
November 23, 2011 11:30
4 minute read.
Sapper searched for landmines in Libya

Landmine Libya 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Even though the civil war in Libya is over, there remains a serious and lingering threat to the civilian population from landmines, grenades, mortar shells and other remnants of the civil war.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has already been involved in clearing up these munitions and on Tuesday launched a nationwide radio campaign to raise awareness among the population.

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“We consider this campaign to be very important particularly in the cities of Sirte and Bani Walid, which were the two cities where very heavy fighting took place until last month,” Steven Anderson, a spokesman for ICRC, told The Media Line. “People are gradually returning to their homes and are finding their homes and streets contaminated by these unexploded devices.”

The three-week radio campaign, which is being co-sponsored by the Libyan Red Crescent , comes after a spate of accidents in which civilians being killed or maimed by the munitions.

“In Sirte in the past week alone, two children playing with one of these devices and a young man cleaning his damaged house were badly injured. Many people are unaware of the dangers posed by ordnance which may explode at the slightest touch,” Jennifer Reeves, an ICRC delegate, said in a press release. 

Dozens of civilians have been killed or maimed in the country in similar circumstances in the past month. Anderson said the radio campaign was “very, very simple.”



“They tell short stories, instances where civilians find these devices in the streets and their homes and what they should do, or not do in particular, when faced with these devices. They should not touch them and report what they find to the authorities who can do something about it,” he said.

Five radio stations – Radio Bani Walid, Radio Libya and Sawt Trablus in Tripoli, Radio Libya Al-Hurra in Benghazi and in Misrata – will broadcast the messages six times a day, the ICRC said.

The radio spots are part of a larger campaign to educate people about the risks of unexploded devices. Billboards, leaflets and posters are being displayed and distributed in areas with lots of unexploded ordnance, where volunteers, many of them from the Libyan Red Crescent, are spreading the word of warning.

“Education or informing about the risks is definitely one important preventive aspect but at the same time what we will be working on as well is the physical removal of all these devices,” Anderson said. 

For over a week, the ICRC has been physically removing explosive debris from the streets and people's homes in Sirte and Bani Walid. Explosive ordnance disposal teams, comprising two clearance experts, a medical doctor and a field officer, have been deployed in each city.

“Surprisingly, the most dangerous places are not the most damaged or destroyed locations. No one yet is returning, but in the places where you might find less destruction people return so that is where we are focusing our efforts now and also working together with Libyan Red Crescent volunteers and others who help identify those places, which are the most dangerous,” Anderson said.

The clearance operations are coordinated closely with the local authorities and supported by volunteers who collect reports from the population about unexploded devices. 

“The contamination is really serious in places like Sirte and Bani Walid, so international organizations need to help out with this,” Anderson said. “This is a job which will take a lot of time. There is really a lot to do.”

The ICRC is no stranger in efforts to clear unexploded munitions in former war zones. It has been involved in Iraq, but also in Libya from the early stages of the conflict in such cities as Benghazi, Misrata and Ajdabiya and the Nefusa mountains after the heavy fighting.

“Each time this problem appears and people who have been displaced want to return we have been involved in raising the awareness and dangers and helping out to clear these places from these very dangerous devices,” Anderson said. 

Since March, the ICRC has removed some 1,400 unexploded devices in places badly affected by hostilities. It has also trained over 140 Libyan Red Crescent volunteers from nine local branches to raise awareness of the threat among the local population.

Earlier this month, the United Nations official in charge of coordinating efforts to clear ordnance from Libya urged the international community to send help, quickly.

Max Dyck, program manager for the UN-led Joint Mine Action Coordination Team in Libya (JMACT), said the explosive remnants of war (ERW) had to be removed now and the funding for it could be solved later after Libya’s frozen funds in foreign countries was thawed.

Dyck also warned that the weapons-clearing efforts would also help prevent these arms, missiles and related material from being smuggled out of the country and into unwanted hands.

“Now is the time to be dealing with it, and now is the time the world should be helping,” Dyck was quoted as saying.

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