Explosive weapons in populated areas

A total of 
33,307 people were reported killed or injured
by explosive weapons during 2015

When explosive weapons were used in populated areas
92% of the casualties were civilians

From Afghanistan to Iraq, Libya to Palestine, Syria to Ukraine and elsewhere, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is a major cause of civilian deaths, injuries and displacement.  


The use of explosive weapons in populated areas also has a severe long-term humanitarian impact:

  • Housing and essential infrastructure, such as water and electricity supply systems, are damaged or destroyed.
     
  • People often have no choice but to leave their homes, often for long periods and in precarious conditions.
     
  • Damage and destruction of water and sanitation systems can increase the risk and spread of disease.
     
  • Explosive weapons are the leading cause of damage to health-care facilities during conflict and armed violence.
     
  • Schools are damaged or destroyed, interrupting or halting access to education. In some places, families do not send their children to school because of the fear of explosive-weapon attacks.
     
  • Livelihoods are devastated as commercial property and means of production (e.g. factories and fishing boats) are damaged or destroyed.
     
  • Explosive weapons leave explosive remnants of war. Until they are removed, they can kill and injure civilians long after hostilities have ended.
     
  • The use of explosive weapons in populated areas has a dramatic effect on post-conflict reconstruction requirements and costs.
     

Taking action

The United Nations Secretary-General has called on all parties to conflict—national military and security forces, and armed groups—to avoid using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas.

There has been important progress in this area. Some military forces, such as the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and the African Union Mission in Somalia, have instituted policy and practice that:

  1. Place limits on the use of certain explosive weapons in certain contexts; and
     
  2. Seek to minimize the impact of military operations on civilians in ways that go beyond the minimum requirements of international humanitarian law.

OCHA has convened three international expert consultations on the issue and is compiling examples of good practice, such as those in Afghanistan and Somalia. OCHA will share these with States, national armed forces and other relevant actors to help promote and contribute to a change in practice.

OCHA is working closely with the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), an NGO partnership calling for immediate action to prevent human suffering from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

A number of States are also working to develop a political commitment that will recognize the humanitarian impact of explosive weapons in populated areas and embody commitments to reduce that impact in the future. This will possibly include the development of policy standards to ensure more effective implementation of international humanitarian law.
 

Resources
Fact Sheet: Protecting civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas
International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW)


 

Collateral - The human cost of explosive violence in Ukraine (OCHA-PAX) Shattered lives - Civilians suffer from the use of explosive weapons in Libya (OCHA-PAX) State of Crisis: Explosive weapons in Yemen (OCHA-AOAV)

 

Types of explosive weapons

Many types of explosive weapons exist, and many are in use by national military forces and armed groups. These include aircraft bombs, artillery shells, missile and rocket warheads, mortar bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Some are launched from the air, others from the ground.

Different technical features dictate their precision and explosive effect, but these weapons generally create a blast-and-fragmentation zone that makes their use highly problematic in populated areas. Particular concern exists over the higher risk to civilians posed by the use in populated areas of explosive weapons that have “wide-area effects”. This is because of the scale of their blast, their inaccuracy, or the use of multiple warheads across an area.

Air-launched explosive weapons


  • These weapons were responsible for 28 per cent of recorded civilian casualties from explosive weapons in 2015 (7,095 civilian deaths and injuries).
  • Almost half of aerial attacks in 2015 were reported in populated areas (43 per cent).
  • When aerial explosive weapons were launched into populated areas, civilians made up 91 per cent of the casualties, compared with 21 per cent in other areas.

Ground-launched explosive weapons

  • These weapons were responsible for 21 per cent of recorded civilian casualties from explosive weapons in 2015 (7,095 deaths and injuries). 
  • 90 per cent of casualties from ground-launched explosive weapons were civilians. This is higher than the proportion recorded from IED attacks (85 per cent) and aerial attacks (61 per cent).
  • Mortars caused at least 2,021 civilian casualties in 15 countries, a 53 per cent increase in civilian casualties from 2013.

IEDs
These weapons were responsible for 49 per cent of recorded civilian casualties from explosive weapons in 2015 (16,199 deaths and injuries).

Source: Unacceptable Harm – Monitoring Explosive Violence in 2015