Explosive Remnants of War

Explosive Remnants of War scattered throughout the world

An explosive remnant of war (ERW) is the term for unexploded and/or abandoned ordnance left behind after a conflict or war. The term, ERW, includes all abandoned and unexploded weapons in an area like unexploded artillery shells, grenades, mortars, rockets, air-dropped bombs, anti-vehicle landmines as well as cluster munition remnants. It excludes antipersonnel landmines.

Scattered throughout the world, although the quantity of it is largely unknown, its impact is significant. Laos, Cambodia, Kosovo, Eritrea, Iraq, Afghanistan and now, Lebanon, have experienced ERW casualty levels on a scale similar to those caused by landmines.

ERW usually contain explosive power and metal fragments, making them more likely to cause multiple casualties. ERW from cluster munitions cover larger areas that can be difficult to map.

Project hundreds of shrapnel fragments

On explosion, ERW typically projects hundreds of shrapnel fragments, which can kill or severely injure anyone in range. If a victim survives, they may suffer the loss of limbs, burns, puncture wounds, ruptured eardrums, and blindness.

ERW can be wholly or partially visible, hidden by vegetation or buried.

Until cleared post-conflict, they pose an ongoing serious threat to civilians. They are particularly dangerous because they are unpredictable. Detonation depends on whether the weapon was fired, the arming mechanism and fuse used, corrosion and degradation, and how people interact with it. Accidents happen when people try to move ERW because of economic necessity or social responsibility. Civilians try to clear land for farming and housing or to stop children from playing with them. In some poor areas people sometimes salvage military debris to sell as scrap metal.

ERW cripple economies

In addition to casualties, ERW create crippling social and economic problems. Like antipersonnel landmines, their presence engenders fear in affected communities. They deny access to land and impede free movement including the return of refugees and internally displaced people. They also delay humanitarian assistance, place additional strain on medical resources and hinder reconstruction and development.

All munitions must be treated as live until otherwise determined. As such they compound the already dangerous, expensive and painstaking task of mine clearance. In effect, they are lethal barriers to development for families and their communities.