In the years since conflict began in Syria in 2011, the country has become the world's forgotten humanitarian crisis. Almost 15 million people are in need of humanitarian aid and a third of the population lives in communities contaminated by unexploded ordnance. Inside the country there are two million displaced people living in refugee camps. Millions more have fled abroad - including half the country's healthcare workers.
According to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as many as 300,000 shells and bombs have failed to detonate during the conflict – leaving civilians vulnerable to death and injury years after the battle has moved on. The World Health Organisation estimates that 15 per cent of the population lives with disabilities caused by the conflict.
Issam, HALO risk education teacher and cluster bomb survivor
HALO is working in the northwest of Syria in an opposition-controlled enclave in Idlib Governorate. We teach families how to stay safe in a landscape hugely contaminated with unexploded debris. We are also mapping landmine accident data and conducting surveys of villages. We began clearance of dangerous items in August 2022 and we will begin mechanical clearance in 2023.
Our teams have disposed of 68 items including mortars, projectiles, fuzes, grenades, rockets and cluster bombs. Most of them were located in agricultural areas, so our work helps farmers use their land – making people safe helps their livelihoods and supports economic activity.
We have mixed gender teams conducting explosive ordnance disposal. Our female staff are proud not to be permanently disposing of explosives, they also challenge gender roles and demonstrate the value of having women in the team.
Our risk education work is badly-needed. A HALO survey revealed that 60 per cent of adults believe that unexploded devices are safe to pick up and over half think a location will be safe if there are no warning signs.
Sadly, thousands of Syrians have already suffered horrendous injuries from the debris of war. With the Syrian healthcare system under serious strain, many victims receive little or no assistance. HALO case workers provide registration, referral and transportation services to victims of explosive ordnance, to help them navigate the fractured healthcare system.