In early 2009 following the Israeli Defense Forces 'Operation Cast Lead' in Gaza, which left inhabitants living and working in communities contaminated by explosive remnants of war, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), in conjunction with UNDP, UNICEF and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), established an immediate presence to coordinate mine action activities.
The Technical Assessment Mission on the ground discovered that the primary threat to the densely populated area came from unexploded ordnance hidden in the rubble of destroyed homes and buildings and in agricultural areas.
To address the urgent humanitarian threat five Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams and a UN management team were immediately deployed to establish the UN mine action team – Gaza Office (UNMAT-GO) which manages and coordinates mine action activities.
After the emergency response phase, UNMAT-GO activities in Gaza changed to a more sustained response, ensuring that mine action was incorporated into any plan to remove the thousands of tons of rubble created during the conflict.
UNMAT-GO has established itself as a vital component of the Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plans for Gaza, enabling communities to regain their livelihoods and freedom of movement.
UNOPS is the implementing partner for all UNMAS operations in Gaza, providing contracting, human resources and procurement services.
Within 10 days of being deployed into Gaza, UNMAT cleared all major road access routes and all contaminated UN facilities including warehouses, schools, health clinics and aid distribution sites.
As of 1 March 2010, UNMAT teams have assessed the contamination threat in 1,632 sites in preparation of rubble removal and road rehabilitation projects, of which over 1,500 were residential properties.
UNMAT-GO has uncovered 343 pieces of unexploded ordnance, roughly half of which were found during rubble removal activities. Seventy-one of these items were M15 anti-tank mines used as demolition charges in the demolition of buildings and 58 items were white phosphorus.
UNMAT Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams have between the 10th and 17th March 2010 conducted demolitions of ten 155mm white phosphorus UXO, in coordination with all relevant authorities within the Gaza Strip and Israel. This is a breakthrough for the programme – and for the United Nations as a whole in the occupied Palestinian territory – as UNMAT-GO was able to import explosives into the Gaza Strip with the assistance and approval of the Israeli authorities. Demolitions of the UXOs collected so far are expected to take up to three-four months.
UNMAS is currently gathering information and consulting the Palestinian and Israeli authorities regarding a potential in-depth threat and needs assessment on potential mine action intervention in the West Bank, Golan or Israel. Any intervention will be dependent on the political will and support of all the relevant authorities.