Grim upsurge for Lebanon prosthetics

March 22nd, 2007 | Posted in Repression

    Tyre, Lebanon [Agence France-Presse]


    Read Tadamon!’s blog on Cluster Bombs HERE.

Prosthetic limb-fitting centers in southern Lebanon are struggling to cope with the rising toll from the one million unexploded munitions left over from last year’s war with Israel.

To cope with the demand, the Canadian-financed Lebanese Welfare Association for the Handicapped has opened a new centre in the southern city of Nabatiyeh, in an area that bore the brunt of Israel’s July-August offensive.

“Since our centre opened in Nabatiyeh (two days ago) we have already had 35 requests for prosthetic arms and legs,” said the centre’s director Bassam Singer.

A first such centre, opened in the coastal town of Sarafand after Israel’s 1996 Grapes of Wrath blitz of southern Lebanon, saw a huge increase in demand for prosthetics after last summer’s 34-day war with Hezbollah.

“The Sarafand prosthetic centre is overwhelmed with people seeking limbs,” said director Talal Berri.

Cluster munitions spread bomblets over a wide area from a single container. The bomblets often do not explode on impact, but can do so later at the slightest touch, making them similar to anti-personnel landmines.

It is thought that up to 40 percent of the bombs did not explode when they hit the ground, becoming deadly traps for the unwary.

The UN has said that clearing them has been made more difficult by Israel not revealing the precise areas they targeted.

Singer and Berri both say they continue to see a steady stream of casualties from the unexploded bomblets, mines, shells and rockets that litter the fields and villages of southern Lebanon, often concealed under rubble.

Legs are much more in demand than arms, as most of the bomblets detonate under foot, shattering the lower limbs.

Doctors have carried out more than 170 amputations since the start of the conflict on July 12, 75 of them since fighting ended on August 14, Berri said.

Dalya Farran, spokeswoman for the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre, said around one million unexploded bomblets remain scattered around southern Lebanon.

That figure comes on top of around half-a-million mainly anti-personnel mines left by Israeli troops when they withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 after 22 years of occupation.

Farran says 222 people — including 190 civilians, the rest soldiers or deminers — have been killed or wounded by bomblets and mines over the last six months. Of the wounded civilians, 110 need prosthetic limbs.

According to an AFP tally, 27 people have been killed by unexploded ordnance since the end of the 2006 war.

The war victims aid group Handicap International says 98 percent of cluster bomb victims are civilians. Last year it said that of 11,044 cases recorded in 23 countries, just 125 were military and another 59 were deminers.

“My son stepped on a bomblet when he was going to help people while working for the civil defence during last summer’s war,” says the mother of Mohammed Nahle, 31, leaning on her for support as he learns to use his artificial limb.

Hussein Jawad, 42, has come here (to Sarafand) to find a replacement for his arm that was torn off in an Israeli air strike as he delivered bread in the southern village of Bayyada.

A new limb costs between 1,000 and 1,800 dollars (750 to 1,300 euros), a fortune for most inhabitants of southern Lebanon where the economy is still reeling from the Israeli bombardment.

The victims have paid the entire cost of the limbs themselves, although a few of them have secured funding from relatives, friends or charities.

In the immediate aftermath of the war, then UN chief Kofi Annan lambasted Israel for using cluster bombs, saying “those kinds of weapons should not be used in civilian and populated areas.”

Then UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland criticized Israel for firing most of its bomblets in the final hours of the war.

“What’s shocking, and I would say completely immoral, is that 90 percent of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict when we knew there would be a resolution,” Egeland said.

Shitte movement Hezbollah also came under criticism from rights groups for its firing of cluster munitions into northern Israel, although no casualties have been reported from unexploded ordnance on that side of the border.

With the mutilation continuing in Lebanon, some countries are now trying to get an outright ban on the use of the explosives that extract such a heavy civilian toll.

Last month at a conference in Norway, 46 countries pledged to seek a treaty banning cluster bombs by next year. Israel and the United States were notably absentees.

Leave a comment

Upcoming events