“This bomb could very easily have killed anybody nearby”

After years of conflict, densely populated areas in Libya are contaminated with mines and unexploded remnants of war. Recently, teams from the Danish Demining Group helped clear a 500kg bomb from a residential building. Liam Kelly, DRC’s Country Director in Libya, tells about the operation and the issue with unexploded remnants of war in Libya.

In the Ganfouda area of Benghazi, one of Libya’s largest cities, we recently discovered an unexploded, 500kg airdropped bomb lodged into a house.

It was likely dropped from an airplane during the conflict between Libyan forces and the Islamic State but failed to detonate on impact. The force of impact meant that the bomb smashed through the front wall of the house and lodged itself into an interior wall.

Teams from the Danish Demining Group – a humanitarian mine action group in the Danish Refugee Council – worked alongside local authorities, first by very gently removing the bomb from the house, and secondly by conducting a controlled detonation in a safe area afterwards.

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Look closely, and you will see the 500kg airdropped bomb being dragged from a building.

If the bomb had exploded on impact or during removal, the explosion would have destroyed the entire house and probably have damaged several neighbouring homes. It could very easily have killed anybody nearby too.

Years of mine clearance needed in Libya

A case like this is emblematic of the issues that Libya is facing in terms of mines and explosive remnants of war.

The levels of contamination are not fully known as it has not been possible to conduct comprehensive surveys of the damage and contamination due to ongoing conflict in the country.

However, in Libya, there are minefields dating back to the Second World War and to the Libya-Chad War, and there are unexploded remnants of war from rounds of intense conflict in 2011 and 2014 that are still ongoing.

All of them have the ability to kill or maim innocent, civilian men, women and children.

We are still clearing unexploded remnants of war from Benghazi, years after the fighting finished there. Unfortunately, there are many more years of hard, dangerous work required in places like this, Sirte, Derna, and Tripoli where the Danish Demining Group works.

Thousand of explosive items cleared

DRC has been present in Libya since 2011 providing basic assistance and protection services to safeguard the dignity, safety, and wellbeing of Libya’s most vulnerable and at-risk populations. This includes humanitarian mine action such as clearing mines, bombs, and other unexploded remnants of war from civilian areas.

To give an idea of the scale of the work we do in Libya, in 2020 we surveyed 644,375 square meters of Libya, despite the challenges associated with COVID-19 and movement restrictions. Of this area, more than 478,000 square meters of land are confirmed or suspected hazardous areas – and we know there is much, much more.

After survey, we were able to remove and render safe or destroy thousands of items of explosive ordnance and small arms ammunition that would otherwise pose grave threat to the safety of civilian Libyans – just like the airdropped bomb we helped clear from the Ganfouda area of Benghazi.