It takes courage to clear cluster bombs

Twelve deminers are working to free a Lebanese village from dangers of the past.

By Rikke Østergård

In the very south of Lebanon, the wavy leafy mountains are taking up the terrain. The fresh and windy air is slightly warm from the winter sun and the mountains seem to radiate a calmness, which Hassan Mwanes clearly knows is false.
“We started working here after cluster bombs were found in this area. There are so many cluster bombs here. And they are very sensitive and difficult to remove,” says Hassan Mwanes who is the site supervisor of the mine clearance team which DanChurchAid has sent to work on the task funded by the European Union.

In early November 2017, DanChurchAid started the work near by the village Beit Lif in Lebanon close to the Southern border. In 2006, this region of the country was heavily struck by the war with Israel. Even though it has been more than ten years since the bombs were raining down over these mountains, the war lives on for the residents here. Almost 70.000 square meters around Beit Lif are still contaminated with cluster bombs, typically of the types M42 and M77. This causes major distress and poses a giant risk to the locals and many olive groves and tobacco trees which were once a good income source are now inaccessible to their owners due to the danger of explosive remnants of war.

“Suddenly we could no longer benefit from our olives or tobacco and of course that hit our economy really hard,” says Ibrahim Saab, a 59-year-old resident from Beit Lif, as he calmly sits in his chair and discusses the situation with the DanChurchAid mine action team.

Dangers all around 

Since 2006, the risks have been luring close to everywhere around here. As the residents returned to the area after the end of the war, they found their houses also to be contaminated with random explosives. 

©Rikke Østergård

Ibrahim Saab, resident of Beit Lif

“Fortunately, we had no major accidents among the locals here,” says Ibrahim Saab. He remembers how the villagers would run out to wave at shepherds and warning them as they were trying to enter the contaminated areas around the village with their herds.

Today, it is only the fields around the village that are still posing a danger and a few years after the war, a UN car struck a bomb as it was driving down a road very close to the mine field which DanChurchAid is now working in. Nobody got hurt, but this only emphasized the need to clear the terrain once and for all.

Lebanon under pressure 

Lebanon is still estimated to have 40 square kilometers which are contaminated from mines, bombs and other explosives. In the recent years, the country has seen a big influx of refugees as more than one million Syrians have fled to Lebanon due to the Syrian war. This had added extra pressure on the resources and space in the small Mediterranean country, so freeing the land from dangers has become even more crucial.

The clearance team of twelve people which DanChurchAid has sent to complete the task is very experienced and it is now working closely with the Lebanese army to make sure that the cluster bombs will be removed in a safe and correct way.

©Rikke Østergård

DCA Deminer Hassan Mwanes

For Hassan Mwanes, it is a personal mission.

“Because I want my children, my neighbor's children and other children to play here in the future, there can be agriculture and people can work with their olive trees. It is my country. I want it to be safe,” he explains.

Also the residents such as Ibrahim Saab are looking forward to the future of the village. “After it is cleared, people will be completely safe, and they can access their land. Maybe we can even plant new things here,” he says.

DanChurchAid plans to finish the task in 2018.