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Gaza deaths overshadow global conference to end urban bombing

Press Release | London, 18t April 2024, 16:00 GMT

  • On 23 April 2024, governments will meet in Oslo to discuss the implementation of the international agreement to limit the use of explosive weapons in populated areas that was endorsed in Dublin in November 2022 by states including the UK and US.
  • The meeting is taking place as a new report, the Explosive Weapons Monitor 2023, shows a significant increase in the number of civilians affected by explosive weapons during 2023, both in terms of civilian casualties and in the destruction of civilian infrastructure such as hospitals and schools.
  • The main driver of the dramatic increase in civilian deaths in 2023 is the use of explosive weapons by Israeli armed forces in Gaza since October 2023.
  • Humanity & Inclusion (HI)’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal expert reports from Gaza that “the enduring legacy of unexploded ordnance will cast a long shadow over recovery efforts"
  • HI is calling for states to act immediately to turn the agreement on explosive weapons in populated areas into concrete policy to protect civilians in Gaza and worldwide.

On 23 April 2024, delegates from 86 states and civil society are meeting in Oslo to discuss the implementation of the international agreement to limit the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA) that was endorsed in Dublin in November 2022 by governments including the UK and US. 

This pivotal meeting comes six months after the escalation of hostilities in Gaza and following two years of war in Ukraine, where in both cases explosive weapons are being used systematically in populated areas.

Significant increase of civilians affected by explosive weapons mainly due to the conflict in Gaza

Released on 22nd April 2023, The Explosive Weapons Monitor 2023 is the leading global report on the humanitarian impact of the bombing of towns and cities. The report shows that civilians in at least 75 countries and territories – one third of the world - were affected by explosive weapons use in 2023.

2023 saw a big increase in civilian deaths caused by explosive weapons.
Analysing the trends, the Explosive Weapons Monitor largely attributes this increase to the use of explosive weapons in the occupied Palestinian territories. 

Civilian deaths also increased in other countries and territories in 2023, including Sudan, Myanmar, Syria and Pakistan. And civilian deaths also occurred in Ukraine, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq, among others. 

In addition, explosive weapons were used in 763 assaults on healthcare facilities across 20 countries and territories in 2023. They were used in at least 296 attacks targeting educational institutions in 21 countries and territories. The Explosive Weapons Monitor also reports at least 470 attacks aimed at humanitarian aid efforts across 11 countries and territories.

“The data from the Explosive Weapons Monitor show a devastating increase in human suffering caused by bombing and shelling. On a daily basis, it is becoming even more evident that states must take action.” says George Graham, Chief Executive of Humanity & Inclusion UK
“Explosive violence is affecting 75 countries and territories, accounting for one third of the world. States including the UK must immediately implement the international agreement to protect civilians from the consequences of the use of explosive weapons. They must introduce concrete policies to alleviate humanitarian suffering caused by the bombing and shelling of towns and cities. We ask for a strong stance from states during the conference in Oslo on April 23, which will be the first implementation conference of this international agreement.” adds Graham.

Northern and central Gaza unbearable due to unexploded ordnances

Gaza, along with territories in Ukraine, Syria, and Yemen, has become an unbearable place for people to live after massive bombing and shelling. Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip over six months of hostilities have damaged or destroyed more than 60% of housing units and annihilated most of the infrastructure in northern and central Gaza.

People who are currently returning to Khan Younis, Gaza, are arriving to find a landscape filled with rubble and debris. The contamination by unexploded ordnance poses a serious danger to the returning population and impedes any reconstruction, which will be impossible without long and complex clearance operations.

“Gaza faces not only the immediate aftermath of hostilities but also the enduring legacy of unexploded ordnance which will cast a long shadow over its recovery and any reconstruction efforts in the future.”

says Gary Toombs, HI’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal expert, who was in Gaza recently on a three-week assessment mission.  
He adds: “It's impossible to know the full extent of the explosive remnant contamination in the Gaza Strip, as hostilities have been present in the region for decades, and explosive remnants of war (ERW) were already a significant problem before the escalation that followed October 7. But considering the intensity of the bombardments during these last few months, we can expect a significant increase in explosive contamination.” 

Many of the explosives are going to be hidden in or underneath the rubble. Some of these bombs can go extremely deep into the ground and we’ll need very specific equipment to dig down to it. It can take up to one month just to get to the bomb. And then you have to render it safe.”

Case Study: Fouad, 9, a double victim of explosive weapon use in Gaza 

Fouad, 9, is one of the many child victims of bombing and shelling in Gaza. He is a double victim of heavy bombing: First he was injured in an explosion when a bomb was dropped on a neighbour’s house. The young boy sustained a blast injury to his left leg, requiring surgery and an external fixator to be fitted. 

After four days in hospital, Fouad was discharged, and he took refuge with his family in an overcrowded shelter. But the destruction of medical infrastructure and equipment by the constant bombing and shelling prevented him from getting the proper medical care. The dire hygiene conditions in the shelter exacerbated his wounds, leading to a severe infection and the need for another surgery.  

With the right care, Fouad could have made a good recovery in normal times. But the impact of heavy bombing in Gaza means that he is now faced with a permanent disability. HI teams are supporting him with wound care and rehabilitation sessions.

“I stopped playing ball with my cousins. I stopped riding my bike. I stopped going to school. I have nightmares.” he says.

It is common for people injured by blast explosions to not to be able to access proper medical care due to intense bombing and shelling that destroy vital infrastructure such as hospitals and force people to flee. In war zones, particularly when explosive weapons are used extensively, HI’s experts observe that the prevalence of impairments in the population increases. In Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, and Gaza, entire generations have been mutilated by explosive violence.


Experts on explosive weapons contamination available for interview

  • Gary Toombs / Simon Elmont, HI Explosive Ordnance Disposal experts who recently returned from Gaza
  • George Graham, Chief Executive of Humanity & Inclusion UK and a decades-long campaigner on protection of civilians, is available for live broadcast interviews in London studios.

Access to the draft version of the Explosive weapons monitor report available upon request
Photos and videos of Fouad from the case study provided are available upon request

About the EWIPA declaration

In November 2022, 83 states, including the UK, endorsed an international agreement in Dublin to end the harm and suffering caused to civilians by heavy urban bombing. To date, 86 states have joined the agreement (Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences arising from the use of Explosive Weapons in Populated areas).
On 23 April 2024, more than 250 delegates from 86 states and civil society will meet in Oslo to discuss the implementation of the agreement. 

The impact of bombing in urban areas

Heavy bombing and shelling in populated areas has an indiscriminate impact on civilians. It causes a pattern of harm to civilians that organisations have systematically observed in armed conflicts, particularly in densely populated areas like Gaza:

  • It overwhelmingly kills and injures civilians (worldwide figures show that 90% of casualties from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas are civilians).
  • It causes complex injuries that are difficult to care for and often result in permanent disabilities.
  • It destroys essential civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, and houses.
  • It causes massive displacement of populations who try to protect themselves from shelling and bombing.
  • It leaves heavy contamination from explosive ordnance, preventing the population from returning once the fighting is over and making clean-up complex and time-consuming.

In an annual publication that reports on explosive violence worldwide, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) identifies a worrying increase in civilian deaths and incidents caused by explosive weapons worldwide in 2023, with a 122% rise in civilian deaths worldwide compared to the previous year. This means a 69% increase in incidents linked to the use of explosive weapons. Airstrikes would be responsible for 67% of civilian deaths. In urban areas, 90% of those wounded by airstrikes were civilians.

About HI’s work in Gaza

All HI's efforts are currently focused on Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, where 1.4 million people from the north have been ordered to move and are now living in appalling conditions, without food, drinking water, sanitation, medicine or adequate shelter. 

With more than 300 staff, volunteers and partners in Gaza, HI has been delivering activities to support the most vulnerable people, including: 

  • Rehabilitation: Since October, a total of 3,698 nursing care sessions (wound dressing), 3,174 physiotherapy sessions and 1,001 occupational therapy sessions have been organised, and a total of 1,723 mobility aids and 717 dressing kits supplied.
  • Basic Needs: 78 first aid kits, 137 cooking kits, 3,456 nappies, 452 dignity kits have been distributed, as well as baby blankets. 
  • Armed violence reduction: 719 community awareness sessions on the risks of explosive remnants of war have been organised in 141 shelters, reaching more than 12,650 children and adults.
  • Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS): a total of 10,128 recreational activities have been organised in 79 shelters for 41,839 people, the vast majority of them children.

Contact our
UK Press Team

Marlène Manning, Media Officer
Email: [email protected]
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