Binnish, Syria – Bassam al-Mustafa thinks he has finally found for his family a building they can call home, after years of trying to escape Syria War.
The house in Binnish, in the countryside of Idlib province, is still unfinished, but it is still better than living in a tent for a camps for displaced people.
Instead, in a devastating tragedy, an explosion in the house al-Mustafa’s family had just begun to call home killed his four children on September 5.
Al-Mustafa said that the explosion was the result of unexploded ordnance left in the home, an ongoing problem for Syrians even as relative calm continues on the front lines between the government and forces opposition forces in the northwest of the country.
“I think my son Ahmed was curious and wanted to see what was inside a locked room on the second floor of the building,” al-Mustafa told Al Jazeera. “He unlocked the door and played with unexploded bombs with his siblings, and they were killed.”
Al-Mustafa said he could not understand why explosives were left in the house.
“How do explosives get into housing? Or in an urban area? “
Civilians in Syria, especially in the opposition-held northwest, continue to die as a result of the intense fighting the region has seen since the war in Syria began. beginning in 2011.
Mines, along with other unexploded ordnance from the thousands of shells, missiles and bombs that government forces and their forces Russia’s Allies dropped litter on opposition-held territory.
These ticking time bombs are a great threat to people’s lives.
In addition to the explosion that claimed the lives of al-Mustafa’s children, incidents earlier this month killed at least seven children in Idlib and Homs, according to the United Nations.
Teams operate across opposition-held territory to try to eliminate the dangers posed by the fighting but have failed to eliminate the large number of dangers that continue to claim the lives of civilians. .
In 2016, the Syrian Civil Defense Forces, also known as White helmetset up a dedicated team to safely dispose of unexploded ordnance.
In addition to demining, the group’s activities include surveying hazardous areas and spreading awareness programs.
Muhammad Sami al-Muhammad of the Civil Defense Organization told Al Jazeera that the organization now has six teams across northwestern Syria that specialize in handling unexploded ordnance. They were able to remove the remaining 21,000 cluster munitions.
The job wasn’t easy – four volunteers working with the organization were killed trying to disarm the bomb.
“Over the past year, the Syrian Civil Defense has recorded the use of 60 different types of miscellaneous explosives used to kill civilians, including 11 types of bomblets internationally banned,” al-Muhammad said. “From the beginning of this year until August, the Syrian Civil Defense conducted more than 780 surveys in more than 260 areas contaminated with explosives and removed 524 pieces of explosives.”
The sheer amount of unexploded ordnance in Syria, including mines, means the country has the highest number of cluster munitions casualties annually in the world.
The International Campaign to Ban Mines (ICBL), an advocacy group to pressure the international community to ban cluster munitions as well as landmines, said (PDF) explosives have been used across nearly all of the country’s authorities since 2012, although use has declined since 2017.
But the reduction in the use of cluster munitions does not mean that the danger has disappeared, as unexploded bombs can cause damage long after they are fired and are forgotten, like landmines.
In 2021, according to ICBL data, mine casualties have fallen from 147 years ago to 37. However, it is still the highest number in the world.
Despite the best efforts of groups like the Syrian Civil Defense, casualties will be many more.
Unexploded ordnance, whether it’s landmines, cluster bombs or anything else, continues to litter the homes, farmlands and playgrounds of people in Syria – remaining a threat for years and years, and decades to come, even when the war ends.