Driving Displacement: Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas
Bagshaw, Simon, Forced Migration Review
Forced displacement has many drivers but one of increasing concern is the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas. Whether in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 to January 2009, during the final gruelling stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka, or in Aleppo and Horns in present-day Syria, the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas encourages the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.
Explosive weapons vary considerably, and include artillery shells, missile and rocket warheads, mortars, aircraft bombs, grenades and improvised explosive devices. Their common feature, however, is that they are indiscriminate within their zones of blast and fragmentation effect, which makes their use in populated areas highly problematic. Data collected across a range of conflicts, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen, reveal substantial and ongoing civilian suffering, both physical and psychological, caused by the blast and fragmentation effects of such weapons in populated areas. A study this year by Action on Armed Violence found that 87% of civilian deaths and injuries occurred in populated areas, including markets, schools, places of worship and private homes.1
While it is difficult to attribute displacement directly to explosive weapons, their use has obvious implications for the displacement of civilians. To begin with, people are forced to flee areas under attack. If and when the fighting ceases or moves on, people are often unable to return due to the widespread destruction of, and damage to, their homes, sources of livelihood and essential infrastructure such as water and sanitation systems. Unexploded ordnance poses a continuing threat to civilians, including returning refugees and internally displaced persons, until it is removed.
The need to address this issue has recently risen up the international agenda, with ICRC,2 the UN SecretaryGeneral,3 UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos, the Security Council and the General Assembly all noting or speaking out against the impact of the use of heavy weapons in population centres. …