After eight months of operations conducted by UNMAS implementing partner, Global Clearance Solutions (GCS), in Tal Kaif, north of Mosul, over 250,000 square meters of contaminated land were cleared, and more than 1,200 items of explosive ordnance rendered safe and removed. The farmlands of Tal Kaif are steadily witnessing glimpses of everyday activities after years of war and explosive contamination.
With its primarily agricultural land and diverse population of Assyrians and Muslims, Tal Kaif witnessed heavy destruction during and after the war with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). It was assessed that the area had been used by ISIL to create a defensive line consisting of a berm and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) running around the perimeter of the city. Post liberation, agricultural areas remain extensively contaminated with IED belts, which led to risky agricultural activities and thus a decrease in livelihood opportunities, effectively hampering local economic recovery.
Moreover, due to weather storms, some IEDs have migrated to the nearby Mosul-Dohuk highway, making it dangerous for thousands of vehicles passing the road on a weekly basis.
Even more serious are the tragedies of explosive ordnance that continue to take place until now. While there is no concrete data as to the number of victims of explosive ordnance, particularly as many of them occur in small and/or remote villages and neighborhoods, UNMAS teams have met many civilians who have come forward to speak about their personal tragedies resulting from explosive ordnance.
In Tal Kaif, amongst those victims are Rawa Hammadi (40 years old) and Maryam Ghassan (12 years old). Mr. Rawa was exposed to an explosion of a remnant of war that hit his spinal cord, thus leading to a quadriplegic paralysis. Maryam was also involved in an explosion of an IED, which severed the tendon of her right leg, thus affecting her ability to move. Now, Maryam has difficulty walking due to the IED explosion.
Parents in the village wake up daily fearing for the safety of their children. “When we returned in 2018, we were faced with an unprecedented reality. The lands are dangerous, and we did not know how to deal with this danger,” said a parent and resident of Al Shahia village in Tal Kaif.
UNMAS Iraq, with support from multiple donors, is sustaining a comprehensive approach towards Tal Kaif by surveying the lands, identifying the location of IEDs, conducting clearance, and providing explosive ordnance risk education. Until now, areas that have been cleared and handed over to the community have been cultivated by the residents.
The reality is that there is a real opportunity to revive the retaken areas like Tal Kaif in Iraq, but the massive contamination and need for clearance far exceeds available resources. Even as Iraq moves out of the immediate emergency phase, the country has a long way to go before it can be even remotely safe for children, women, and men living in and nearby contaminated areas.