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Economic crisis affects Lebanon de-mining

Funds that would go toward clearing a 205-square-kilometer danger zone have been diverted.

NABATIEH, Lebanon — The pock marks on the walls of 45-year-old Salima Barakat's house are not unusual for this part of southern Lebanon. Bullet and shrapnel marks of varying ages remind longtime residents of the many wars and occupations, notably the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. 

Less visable are the scars on Salima's own body, which also tell a story — that of one of millions of cluster bombs dropped by Israel during the 2006 offensive. It landed in Salima's kitchen, exploded and left shrapnel lodged in various parts of her anatomy.

“It tore my intestines open,” says Barakat, pulling at her stomach through her acid-green overgarment. “My fingers were hurt and some hit my head. Some fragments came through the sole of my foot up to the upper foot and it still hurts.”

The 2006 conflict also added to the layers of mines laid in previous conflicts, wars and occupations. Some 205 square kilometers of Lebanese soil remain contaminated — 165 square kilometers by mines and some 40 square kilometers by cluster bombs.

Particularly hard-hit is southern Lebanon, where the local economy is dependent on agriculture. In Salima's olive grove, 10 of the trees were felled during the conflict and the rest didn't bear olives for two years, she says. Southern Lebanon's agricultural output is estimated to have shrunk 25 percent due to contaminated land and damaged plantations.

But on the hill slopes around Salima's house, several de-mining teams are hard at work trying to win back precious terrain and reverse the fortunes of the people living here. From afar, they look like clusters of beetles, their helmets, visors and body armor glistening occasionally under the hot Lebanese sun.

A de-miner scans for expolsives.
(Don Duncan/GlobalPost)

“Now we have a really big effect,” says Hamad Dothman, 34, a site manager for U.K.-based de-mining NGO Mine Action Group (MAG). He oversees several teams at work not far from Salima Barakat's house. “You can see all the locals now planting their land and building their new houses and you can see many new constructions.”

But these days, the teams are never sure if they will be back at work the following week. De-mining in Lebanon has all but ground to a halt since the global recession hit.

Lebanon was one of the land mine hot spots in the world that was within sight of full clearance. Experts envisaged a Lebanon free of land mines and cluster bombs as early as the end of next year. But that was before the money began to dry up.