HI clearance expert during a training session in Lebanon. | © HI
HI in Lebanon has just begun new clearance operations in the Chouf district of Mount Lebanon province. Once released, the land – abandoned for the last 40 years – will be used for agriculture.
Roger Eid, who manages HI’s clearance teams in Lebanon, explains the operations:
We’ve a team of eight men and two women who will gradually all be working in the village of Majed El Meouch. We‘ve begun with four deminers and we’ll increase the number as we extend the area in which we’re working. For security reasons, we have to maintain a minimum distance of 15 metres between each deminer.
Chouf is a wooded and mountainous region. We concentrate on places where we have an indication or evidence of the presence of dangerous items such as a mine or unexploded ordnance, or where a past accident has been reported. The land on which we’re working at the moment has been abandoned for forty years. The contamination is a legacy of the civil war. Chouf saw intense fighting during the Mountain War in the 1980s.
According to the Lebanon Mine Action Centre, 64 sites are contaminated or are suspected hazardous areas. Around 750 000 m² of land is contaminated in Chouf.
We’ve set up our command post in an abandoned house, about 100 metres away from the first site to be cleared.
We don’t have any precise information on where the mines or unexploded ordnances are located, so we have to be very cautious.
It’s very hot at this time of year so we start work at 6am and finish at 1.30pm. Each deminer works six 50-minute shifts, with a 10-minute break between each shift. There’s a lot of vegetation that needs to be cut down first. During this part of the operation, we have to be very cautious and focused. Once we’ve cleared away the vegetation, we use metal detectors and move forward very slowly.
The people in the surrounding villages are very curious about our work. They regularly come and ask us how it’s going, when we’ll be finished, if we need anything. They’re very friendly.
Once the land has been released back to them, they intend to invest in agriculture and plant olive trees, pines, fruit trees and so on. One million people live in Mount Lebanon. It’s the second most populated area in the country after Beirut. HI has been present in Aley district since 2021 and in Chouf district since 2023. 26,000 square metres of contaminated lands have already been cleared and released back to the communities.
HI has been working on the #Lebanon in Mine Action programme for more than 10 years. The team completed its previous mission in Mount Lebanon province in January of this year. Over the last decade, with the cooperation of LMAC, our teams have cleared 250 acres of land once contaminated by landmines and other explosive weapons and declared South Lebanon Province as mine impact free. In 2022, our experts provided awareness sessions for more than 1,700 people on how to spot, report and avoid these dangerous remnants of war.
HI’s current operations in Mount Lebanon province focus on fostering economic and social development through the release of suspected hazardous and contaminated land, conducting group awareness-raising sessions to reduce the risks posed by explosive devices and promote safer behaviour, as well as collecting data and identifying crisis-affected people or victims of explosive devices and their families, assessing their needs and then referring them to the relevant services.
The operations are supported by the Crisis and Support Centre of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and the Lebanon Mine Action Center until July 2024.