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2008 Nansen Refugee Award: UNMACC-SL: leading humanitarian mine clearance in South Lebanon

Nansen Awards

2008 Nansen Refugee Award: UNMACC-SL: leading humanitarian mine clearance in South Lebanon

15 September 2008

Refugee children at the World Refugee Day show in Nouakchott.

GENEVA (UNHCR) - More than two decades of conflict in Lebanon left a deadly legacy - tons of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and millions of landmines and bomblets strewn over the countryside and in urban areas. The weapons took a regular toll on unsuspecting civilians over the years, particularly in the south, where Israel maintained a military presence until 2000.

In recognition of the serious humanitarian nature of the problem posed by landmines and UXO in southern Lebanon following the Israeli occupation and previous periods of conflict, the Lebanese authorities asked the UN for help in 2000.

In November 1998, following consultations with other UN agencies and the government of Lebanon, the newly formed UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in New York sent a multidisciplinary inter-agency mission to assess the requirement for UN assistance. As a result, a regional UN Mine Action Coordination Centre (UNMACC) was established in July 2001.

This formed the basis of today's UN Mine Action Coordination Centre - South Lebanon (UNMACC-SL), which was located at the headquarters of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the southern city of Naqoura.

As a result of United Arab Emirates (UAE) funding for mine clearance in southern Lebanon, UNMACC-SL was able to establish a base in 2002 in the southern port of Tyre.

This office was responsible for planning, prioritization, monitoring and coordination of clearance activities under the umbrella of the UAE-funded project. The UN was brought in to provide to provide technical support and establish a national support staff capacity for the project.

UNMACC-SL now has a staff of about 50 people, including some 20 international staff. In addition, seven officers from the Lebanese armed forces are attached to the centre. UNMACC-SL manages close to 1,000 Lebanese civilian mine clearers and works closely with non-governmental organizations and UN bodies such as the UN refugee agency.

After its creation, UNMACC-SL was charged with clearing munitions left from the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. It cleared 60,000 landmines, freeing up some 5 million square metres of land.

After the brief war in mid-2006 between Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants, the focus changed to clearance of bomblets distributed by clusterbombs. To date, some 149,000 bomblets have been cleared from an area of 35 million square metres. At least 20 civilians and 14 mine clearers have been killed by unexploded ordnance in the south since the war and scores more injured.