International community assists BiH with landmine risk after floods

03/06/2014

Experts urge BiH to educate the public on how to deal with landmines displaced by the flooding.

By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 03/06/14

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Landmines displaced by flooding and landslides remain unmarked, posing a danger in BiH. [AFP]

The international community is assisting Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in locating and destroying landmines and other munitions displaced by the recent flooding and the resulting landslides in the region.

The effort took on new urgency after a landmine dislodged by last month's historic floods exploded in Brcko. Other dangerous finds in BiH included a rocket launcher, a large plastic bin full of bombs and a refrigerator containing nine explosive devices.

With more than 120,000 landmines and munition devices still remaining in the field from the 1990s conflicts, BiH is the most mine-polluted country in Europe.

A group of civilian explosive ordnance disposal experts from the US arrived in BiH on May 26th to begin work with local officials from Serbia and BiH mine action centres in surveying mine-contaminated areas affected by the floods.

A team from Belgium is taking aerial images of the Maglaj and Doboj areas to locate landmines.

Experts from the electronics and informatics department of Vrije University in Brussels will also help by using situational and flooding maps produced by global company e-GEOS and the European Commission's Copernicus Emergency Management Service.

"This timely assessment will not only help civil protection authorities, but will also update the current situation on affected landmines," Hichem Sahli, head of the electronics and informatics department at Vrije University, told SETimes.

"With flooding and landslides, the risk of minefields moving is very high. It is early to evaluate how far movements happened, and what the effective risks are compared to before the flooding," he added.

About 900 square kilometres of flood-affected area is under the direct or indirect influence of landmines. The biggest problem is around the Sava River, where the most landmine fields were affected by floods.

Sasa Obradovic, a spokesperson from the BiH Agency for Demining, said remarking the minefields where the flooding removed the original signs is a priority.

"The situation is very serious," Obradovic told SETimes. "We call on the population to be very careful during sanitation and to mark the mines. A few days ago, one man shot a mine thinking he would deactivate it, which was very dangerous. If citizens recognise a mine, they should immediately inform the police."

UN officials agreed, and said the most important action now is risk awareness.

''We need to urgently inform people about the real dangers and hazards to make sure that those returning to flooded areas and those helping clear up the debris are safe," Jasmin Porobic, manager of the Human Security Programme in the UN Department of Mine Action, told SETimes.

"At this point, it is very difficult to make any conclusions. The situation is serious, and the level of real hazard will be determined soon," she added.

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Experts said citizens should remain vigilant and report any sighting of mines or explosive remnants of war.

"The idea of mines travelling large distances between countries cannot be ruled out. Particular attention should be given to features above ground, such as mine warning signs and fences which are likely to be impacted to a greater extent," Guy Rhodes, director of operations at the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, told SETimes.

Since the end of the conflict, nearly 2,000 people have died in BiH due to mine explosions. It is estimated that around 1 million people are living in minefield areas in the country.

How can BiH effectively educate the public on the migration of landmines? Tell us your thoughts below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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