War remnants, including landmines and unexploded ordnance, pose significant risk to residents of opposition areas of Northwest Syria, limiting access to housing, land and property rights. Many people are afraid to work on their farmland or live in homes that were hit by cluster munitions.
Since the start of 2021, the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, have responded to 20 explosions caused by war remnants. The explosions killed a total of 15 people, among them eight children. Civil Defence bomb squads have recorded 60 different types of ordnance that could not immediately be detnoted, including 11 types of internationally banned cluster munitions that regime and Russian forces used extensively in civilian areas.
Two children were critically injured this past February when an unidentified object exploded in a wheatfield in the western Idlib government town of Adwan. A young girl was also injured after a cluster bomb exploded in the backyard of an apartment building, located in the western neighbourhood of Darkoush, where her family lived. Some residents of the building prohibited their children from playing outside, while one family decided to move away from the neighbourhood altogether.
Cluster munitions pose the greatest danger of any other bombs to local residents, as they were heavily used over large swathes of land during periods of bombardment and had a low rate of immediate detonation upon hitting the ground.
Some opposition factions left unexploded ordnance at military sites they had vacated, or in areas where they had previously fought, posing further threat to residents’ safety. Most notable are locally made mortars, landmines, and hand grenades. Some of these unexploded ordnance were also left behind in agricultural fields that had been used as artillery positions.
Unexploded ordnance remain spread across much of opposition-held Northwest Syria, especially in areas that witnessed heavy bombing, such as Sahel Al-Ghab, Jisr Al-Shughour, and east of Idlib city, namely Sarmin, Binnish, Taftanaz, Jabal Al-Zawiyah.
Sami Al-Muhammad, coordinator for the Syria Civil Defense unexploded ordinance programme, told The Syria Report that Civil Defence bomb squads conducted more than 600 surveys in 2021, in which they identified 400 danger zones and disposed of around 23,000 explosives of various kinds. Among those explosives were 21,000 cluster bombs.
Unexploded ordnance nevertheless remains scattered among civilian homes, agricultural fields, and playgrounds, and will remain potentially explosive for decades. Removing these explosives helps to support and revitalise communities, as well as empower displaced people to return to their homes, use playgrounds, work farmlands, and safely attend schools.