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The ever-present war

July 31, 2010

On August 1, the UN-Convention on Cluster Munitions came into effect. Israel has not yet signed the agreement. In the 2006 Lebanon war Israel is said to have dropped four million cluster bombs. Many failed to explode.

Cluster bombs can be found even four years after the end of the war
Still there - even four years after the end of the warImage: Organisation mag/MA Group Lebanon

Finally Nimr Mustafa can return to his plantation. For the first time in four years, this fall he will be able to harvest his olive trees: "There are 75 olive trees on my plantation. But I haven't set foot on the land since 2006." According to Mustafa cluster bombs are spread all over the place.

The revenue from his harvest is an important extra income for Mustafa, headmaster of the little local school: $1,500 (1,145 euros) per season - money he could really do with. Eventually a team of minesweepers from an international organization cleared the lot.

A risk he has to take

Cluster bombs are found and destroyed
Red circles signify a controlled explosionImage: Organisation mag/MA Group Lebanon

Nearby Mustafa's estate Mohamed Nasrallah lives in a modest cottage. In his backyard there is a small plantation of fruits and olives. He hardly enters it though, and when he does Nasrallah is full of fear and trepidation. "I haven't had the final cleanup. There are still cluster bombs on my land," the father of four says. "But I have to go there, take care of the trees, water them and harvest the ripe fruits. I can't let my trees die."

His children, however, are not allowed to set foot on the plantation. The courtyard and the surrounding streets have become their playground.

Nasrallah and Mustafa live in Southern Lebanon, in Yohmor, a small village a couple of kilometers east of Nabatieh. A few steps from the village, the Al Litani River flows through a steep canyon. No one would guess that only four years ago this idyllic place of 2,000 souls was the site of acrimonious battles and struggles.

During the war between Israel and Lebanon in 2006, this area was among the most hard-fought over regions and there are still traces of shell splinters on some walls or in a few side streets.

But all the houses have been rebuilt, most streets have been freshly tarmaced. Pictures of young soldiers who were killed in action are put up on power poles, right next to the Hezbollah logo, with its green letters on yellow background. The posters have been hanging there for a while and have been bleached by the sun. It seems like time has stood still.

Death lurks everywhere

And the war still lingers on in Yohmor. Cluster bombs still contaminate roughly 80 percent of the farm land and the forests. The bombs lurk underground, in between rocks, in waste pipes, on trees or in dry stone walls. They are everywhere, spread all over the place.

Minesweepers have to search every meter, risking their own life
A strenuous and nerve- wracking job: Minesweepers have to search every meterImage: Organisation mag/MA Group Lebanon

The Israeli army used munitions that were 35 years old, says Mohamed Scheikh from the center for minesweeping with the Lebanese army. "Therefore the number of duds is very high. In some areas it's 100 percent - none of the discharged bombs exploded right away," he explains. "43.6 square kilometers (16.8 square miles) in Southern Lebanon were affected. So far, we've managed to clean up half of it already."

Cluster bombs are malicious weapons. They do not have a due date: "They are always ready to explode. And the longer they remain underground, the more sensitive and dangerous they get. Due to heavy rain and torrents they change their position," he says.

No end in sight yet

Farmers and shepherds are among the high-risk groups. They know how dangerous duds are - but like Mohamed Nasrallah they are frequently forced to farm their fields or set foot on meadows that are only superficially cleaned up. Many people in the southern part of Lebanon depend on farming and cattle breeding.

Many received compensation and donations for the reconstruction of war-torn buildings - but there is no money for damages or the loss of earnings caused by cluster bombs.

Since the official end of the war in August 2006, 46 civilians have died because of cluster bombs while a further 340 have been injured. According to estimates by the Lebanese army, by 2014 Southern Lebanon should be cluster bomb-free - if there are no financial cuts to the minesweeping squad.

However it is very unlikely that they will be able to stick to the schedule.

International organizations report in unison that the number of donations is down on the past years. They received a lot of money after the war says Ali Shuaib from MAG International, an English-based NGO: "And then, bit by bit, it got less. We used to have 400 employees, now it's just 217. The less money we have, the slower the minesweeping continues."

Author: Mona Naggar/gri
Editor: Rob Mudge

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