Millions of people will be endangered by up to 132m cluster bomblets that have not yet exploded, causing lasting economic and social harm to communities in more than 20 countries for decades to come, a leading charity warned yesterday.
Handicap International studied data from nine countries most heavily affected by the weapon and found that about 440m cluster bomblets had been dropped there since 1965. Based on failure rates of 5-30%, the group estimated that 22m-132m of the devices remain unexploded.
The vast majority of cluster bomb casualties occur while victims are carrying on their daily lives, says the report, Circle of Impact: The Fatal Footprint of Cluster Munitions on People and Communities.
The huge numbers turn "homes and crucial social areas of the people living in affected countries into de facto minefields", says the Brussels-based charity. "As men and boys are the traditional earners and the majority of casualties, the economic loss for both the short term and the distant future cannot be underestimated."
In Afghanistan, boys between five and 14 who are tending animals are most likely to be casualties. In Laos, more than 1,000 people were killed by submunitions while weeding or sowing crops.
In many cases people knowingly enter contaminated areas out of economic necessity, the report says. In southern Lebanon cluster munitions contaminate approximately 90% of the land used for farming. The contamination of essential land is reflected in the rise of cluster bomb casualties from two per year prior to 2006 to two per day in the months following last summer's conflict with Israel.
In Iraq, the repeated use of cluster bombs has left a devastating legacy that continues to severely restrict the lives of its people, the charity reports. More than 4,000 civilians have been killed or injured by failed cluster munitions since the end of the 1991 Gulf war. Some 60% of the casualties have been children.
Next week governments will meet in Lima to discuss a draft treaty to ban the bombs. Rae McGrath, of the Handicap International network, said: "It is an offence against all humanitarian norms to continue using these weapons with such evidence of their impact available."
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